UPDATE 1-Niger halts oil exports as Soraz refinery shuts down over broken part

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NIAMEY, March 29 (Reuters) - Niger suspended oil exports on Monday to help fulfil domestic demand, the country’s Soraz refinery operator said in a letter, as it waited for a replacement for a broken part that has halted production.

The Soraz facility, a joint venture between the government and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), has a production capacity of 20,000 barrels per day.

At 1210 on Friday “a failure occurred at the catalytic cracking unit”, causing the refinery to stop, said Zhao Guangming, the director general of Soraz, in a March 29 letter to the minister of petroleum.

“To effectively guarantee the supply of the domestic market with refined products during the stoppage of refining, we propose to suspend export loadings,” Guangming said in the letter which was authenticated by Reuters.

Soraz expects the spare part to arrive by April 3 or 4, according to an employee who was not permitted to speak to news media.

The West African country became an oil producer in 2011. (Reporting by Boureima Balima; writing by Hereward Holland; editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)