El Nar oilfield, Unity State, SOUTH SUDAN – At 1:20 p.m., on February 29, oil technicians who had just arrived at El Nar oilfield in South Sudan were thrown into a momentary state of panic by a round of bombings that South Sudanese leaders allege came from the Sudanese army. Five bombs were dropped, according to South Sudanese security in the area at the time, by two MiG-15 fighter jets.
The technicians, employees of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (a consortium of Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian state-owned companies) had arrived a short half-hour earlier to conduct a routine flushing of the now empty pipelines connecting the El Nar wells to a processing facility when the bombings took place.
Journalists, Enough, and staff from the petroleum ministry in Juba were shown three craters left by the impact of the bombs, in sites approximately 10 to 15 kilometers from the North-South border, on a recent trip sponsored by the South Sudan government.
At El Nar well 8, damage to the flow line and wellhead was apparent. Shards of glass from the shattered windows of a GNPOC vehicle cut up by bomb shrapnel lay on the ground. The bomb crater lay several feet away from the oil wellhead.
Standing near El Nar well number 5, South Sudan officials said two bombs fell 500 meters away. The area surrounding the wellhead was stained by a small oil spill that resulted when technicians triggered the emergency shutdown in response to the bombings.
About 200 meters from the El Nar 5 wellhead sits the El Nar oil field processing facility. If the facility had been hit, technicians say the consequences would have been “disastrous” and may have caused damage to infrastructure that lay in the North as well.
Irreparable damage to oil infrastructure in the South is not in the North’s interest; both economies depend heavily on oil revenues.
The two sides remain at an impasse over the amount of money that Juba should pay to Khartoum for pumping South Sudan’s oil through infrastructure in the North. In late January, South Sudan shut down the country’s oil operations, saying it wanted to prevent Sudan from continuing to confiscate southern oil while the two sides were still negotiating. Now, Khartoum’s decision to imperil infrastructure crucial for buoying its sagging economy may be an indication of the regime’s desperation and obstinance in the face of South Sudan’s resolve.
With the shutdown and tensions between the two states heightened, Juba and Khartoum appear further away than ever from an agreement.
“This is a new trend that we haven’t seen before,” said South Sudan Petroleum Ministry Director General Mohamed Lino. “This time the bombings targeted oil facilities.”
Khartoum has twice before violated South Sudan’s sovereignty in late January and last November, bombing two separate refugee sites within southern territory. Both sites sheltered refugees who had fled across the North-South border from fighting between the Khartoum government and rebel forces in Sudan. Khartoum alleges that the refugee sites harbor rebel fighters and that South Sudan is supporting the rebellion across the border.
This latest bombing maintains the environment of mistrust and acrimony that has stood between a North-South agreement on post-secession issues. The two sides return to the table tomorrow once more, in what will likely be another unfruitful round of talks in Addis Ababa.