Kiir, back from China, says Heglig belongs to S.Sudan

Sat Apr 28, 2012 9:13am GMT

By Yara Bayoumy

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, back from an official visit to China, said on Friday that his armed forces had not damaged the contested Heglig oilfield they seized for 10 days earlier this month because it belongs to South Sudan.

Both South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan and became independent last July, and Sudan claim the Heglig oilfield. South Sudan said its forces withdrew from the area last Friday after coming under intense diplomatic pressure to pull back.

"Panthou and the oil on top of it is ours ... it is impossible that we would damage or destroy (the facilities)," Kiir, using South Sudan's name for the Heglig oilfield, told tens of thousands of supporters after his return from China.

"One day, if there is law in this world, Panthou will come back to us by law ... That's why this talk about us damaging (the oilfield) is a lie," he said. "We have no reason to damage the oil refineries in Panthou or any other contested areas because these areas are ours."

Satellite images have shown serious damage to some of the infrastructure. Each side has accused the other of damaging the facilities, part of a war of words that has accompanied local fighting along the 1,800 km (1,100 mile) contested border in what was once Africa's largest country.

The skirmishes have threatened to escalate into a full-blown conflict, which neither can afford. Most of the two nations' economically vital oil production has been shut down. Oil provides about 98 percent of South Sudan's state revenue, and Heglig accounts for half Sudan's 115,000 bpd output.

Kiir said South Sudanese forces withdrew from Heglig only to avoid being diplomatically isolated. Their seizure of Heglig was sharply criticised by the United Nations. Sudan says its forces ejected the South's troops from the area.

"To be condemned internationally is not good," Kiir told a boisterous crowd at the John Garang mausoleum.   Continued...

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit (L) inspects an honour guard with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao (not pictured) during an official welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.