* Local authorities had planned to partially halt oil output
* Malakal divided between army, rebels since Tuesday
By Carl Odera
JUBA, Feb 22 South Sudan has reversed a plan by
local authorities to partially shut down oil production and
evacuate foreign workers in its main oil-producing region after
it was hit last week by the worst fighting since a January
Thousands have been killed and more than 800,000 have fled
their homes since fighting began in South Sudan two months ago,
triggered by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and
Riek Machar, his former deputy whom he sacked in July.
The warring sides signed the ceasefire on Jan. 23 to end
weeks of fighting, but sporadic clashes have continued.
Since Tuesday, the capital of the main oil-producing Upper
Nile region, Malakal, has been divided between the army and
rebels after forces loyal to Machar raided the town and fought
against government troops.
Local officials on Friday ordered the evacuation of foreign
oil workers from the Adar and Gumri oil fields, citing security
concerns, but the national government overruled them.
"This one was just an irrational decision from the (Upper
Nile) state authorities without consultation with the national
government," South Sudan's Minister in the Office of the
President Awan Guor told Reuters via telephone.
"The presence of rebels in Malakal doesn't mean that our oil
fields are in danger right now," he said.
A petroleum ministry official told Reuters on Thursday that
national oil production had fallen to about 170,000 barrels per
day even before the rebel strike on Malakal, a fall of around a
third since the fighting erupted in December.
Upper Nile is the only state pumping oil after production in
neighbouring Unity state was halted earlier on in the conflict,
forcing the government to cut output by about a fifth to around
Malakal lies about 140 km (90 miles) from Paloch, an oil
complex where a key crude oil processing facility is situated.
The government wants to avoid further losses from the oil
fields, an economic lifeline for Juba and neighbouring Sudan,
which earns vital hard currency from fees received for use of
its oil pipeline.
The fighting in Malakal has cast doubts over the peace talks
in Addis Ababa, which have already been delayed by rebel demands
for the release of four remaining political detainees and the
withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the country.
(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)