JUBA, (AFP) — South Sudan vowed on Friday that China’s huge investments in its oil sector would remain safe, whatever the outcome of the region’s January 9 independence referendum.
Pagan Amum, secretary general of the south?s ruling Sudan Peoples? Liberation Movement (SPLM), said ties between Beijing and the south were “very good,” following talks with a delegation of senior leaders from China?s ruling Communist Party.
“The largest investment in southern Sudan today is Chinese. They have invested billions of dollars in the oil sector, and have a large number of Chinese workers in the oil fields,” Amum told AFP.
“We have given assurances to the Chinese leadership delegation to protect the Chinese investments in southern Sudan, and are desirous to see more investment in the future,” he added, speaking in the southern capital of Juba.
Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil producer – with more than 80 percent of known oil reserves thought to lie in the south – while China is the biggest importer of the oil.
The oil revenue provides 98 percent of the southern government’s income.
South Sudan, which fought a two-decade civil war against the north in which two million people died, is due to vote on whether to secede or remain united with the north in a January referendum under a 2005 peace deal.
International concern is growing that failure to hold the referendum on time could spark renewed violence between the two sides.
Tensions are rising between the former rebel SPLM and the northern ruling National Congress Party (NCP), and Amum said the south had urged China to use its influence with Khartoum.
“We discussed with the delegation the role of China to support peace in Sudan, especially to prevail on the NCP not to take the country back to war again,” he added.
Amum also criticised a call from the NCP on Thursday to delay a separate referendum on the contested oil-producing border region of Abyei, on whether the area is to be ruled by the south or north Sudan.
“Any delay is unacceptable, and it is a call that would affect the peace process,” warned Amum. “The referendum is still possible to go ahead on time if the NCP cooperates.”
The vote is due to take place on the same day as the south’s referendum.
Negotiations between the two sides on who should be eligible to take part in the Abyei vote collapsed in Ethiopia on Tuesday.
The flashpoint district’s future has long been a major bone of contention between north and south because of its oil wealth.
“The only thing I can see for why the NCP does not want the referendum to happen on time is greed for the oil of Abyei,” Amum said. “I really hope that the greed does not take them to a point of destroying peace.”
The referendum law gives voting rights to the traditionally southern supporting Dinka tribe, leaving it up to a referendum commission to decide which “other Sudanese” are considered residents of the region and can also vote.
The law has angered the Misseriya – a people who migrate each year to Abyei looking for pasture for their cattle, and who are largely supporters of the north.
They have threatened to carry out acts of violence in the district if they are not allowed to vote.