OIL-RICH South Sudan has reportedly appealed for military assistance from the Zimbabwean government to help protect its oilfields from rebel forces.
BY STAFF REPORTER
According to the State-run South Sudan Television, Foreign Affairs minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin on Wednesday made a passionate plea to Zimbabwe for assistance during his meeting with Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to South Sudan Kufa Chinoza.
Benjamin is also said to have pleaded with President Robert Mugabe to be part of South Sudan’s inclusive political dialogue due to take place in Pretoria, South Africa.
“Zimbabwe should join IGAD (Inter-governmental Authority on Development) countries to help protect South Sudan oilfields,” Benjamin reportedly said.
IGAD is the East African regional group that on March 13 announced plans to deploy troops from Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi and Djibouti to protect vital installations including oilfields in the troubled country.
Online publications yesterday quoted Chinoza as saying Zimbabwe was closely following talks between the South Sudanese government and rebels.
“We are following the Addis Ababa talks closely.
We’ll support every effort including that being mediated by IGAD to bring peace to South Sudan,” Chinoza told the South Sudan media after meeting Benjamin.
However, Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) spokesperson Colonel Overson Mugwisi yesterday said they had not yet received the request.
“It’s news to me. Usually that level of interaction isn’t made a secret, but we have not heard about that. Where are you getting that from?” Mugwisi said.
South Sudan and rebel forces will hold face-to-face talks mediated by IGAD, in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday.
Zimbabwe has deployed several peace-keeping forces to South Sudan and other troubled African nations on several occasions.
In 1998, government deployed troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to help fight off insurgents on behalf of the late Laurent Kabila, but the matter caused a fierce storm back home with civic groups and opposition parties accusing Mugabe of making unilateral decisions without consulting Parliament.
Violence erupted in South Sudan last December after a section of the presidential guard supporting former Vice-President Riek Machar attempted to topple President Salva Kiir in Juba.
The fighting then spread quickly to the oil-rich states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.
Rebel forces halted production in Unity State. Prior to the coup attempt, Unity State produced 45 000 barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil, or 15% of South Sudan’s total output of 245 000 b/d.
Upper Nile State, which used to produce 200 000 b/d of crude oil before the outbreak of the violence, is also affected.
South Sudan seceded from the Republic of Sudan in 2011.