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Conflict-torn South Sudan planning to increase oil production

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan seeks to increase oil production from the current 130,000 barrels per day (bpd) to over 180,000 bpd in 2018 despite threat of oil workers kidnapping and security concerns, a senior official said late Saturday.

Stephen Dhieu Dau, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, said preparations are underway to resume oil production in Unity State and oil operators in Upper Nile region have been instructed to expand their daily output.

Oil production was halted in Unity State after the December 2013 conflict.

Dau said insecurity and fall in global oil price forced the government to scale down production to fewer than 130,000 bpd in 2017 down from 160,000 bpd in 2015 after closing of the Unity oil fields.

South Sudan depends on oil revenue for 98 percent of its budget, but production has been hampered by civil conflicts that have forced most oilfields in the country’s northern region to shut down.

The East African nation is currently struggling with hyper inflation, economic crunch amid shortage of foreign reserves to support imports.

Recent abduction of oil workers by fighters allied to former deputy president Riek Machar has also raised fears that the war-torn country would be deprived of its leading source of revenue after the rebels demanded stoppage of oil production.

But Petroleum Minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said last month that the kidnapping cases would not impede oil production in the area, assuring oil operators that security will immediately be reinforced to protect oil workers.



South Sudan suspends hiked work permit fees amid outcry

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan said Saturday that it had suspended implementation of the recently hiked work permit fees for foreign workers and also abandoned planned increase of aviation fees.

Finance minister Stephen Dhieu Dau told reporters that the suspension would allow the government to review the country’s financial laws and come up with a fee moderate to the East African region.

He said the proposed work permit fees for foreign workers would not go beyond 5,000 U.S. dollars.

“What we are doing should be consistent with the region. So we should not be seen collecting less or imposing higher,”  Dau said.

He said the government would also consider reducing taxes on pharmaceutical products from the current 5 percent to 2 percent and agricultural inputs from 10 percent to 5 percent in a bid to reduce prices of medicine and food.

Last month, South Sudan increased work permit fees for foreign workers from 400 U.S dollars to 10,000 dollars for professional/business class, blue collar jobs to 2,000 dollars and casual laborers 1,000 dollars as a measure to fight economic crisis.

But the increment prompted an outcry from humanitarian agencies who described the increment as way of restricting work of foreign aid workers in the war-torn nation.

South Sudan depends on oil revenue for 98 percent of its budget, but civil conflicts since 2013 have caused most oilfields in the country’s northern Upper Nile region to shut down as production fell to below 130,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 350,000 bpd.

The East African nation is currently struggling with hyper inflation amid shortage of foreign reserves to support imports.


South Sudan launches ten-year health policy

JUBA South Sudan  (Xinhua) -- South Sudan on Friday launched a ten-year national health policy that seeks to strengthen health sector staffing, remuneration, capacity building, public-private partnership and security for health workers.

The government also launched an ambitious project dubbed Boma Health Initiative, which aims to take basic health care to rural communities where 80 percent of the country’s population lives.

The National Health policy 2016 to 2026 calls for efforts to increase government’s allocation to the health sector from the current 2 percent to at least four percent, equitable distribution of medicine and diversifying sources of resource mobilization.

In a speech delivered by First Vice President Taban Deng Gai on behalf of President Salva Kiir, the South Sudan leader pledged to implement the health policy to boost the health sector.

“Look forward to see that the resolutions made during this summit are implemented in letter and spirit to improve the health status of people and residents of South Sudan in order to enjoy healthy lives and achieve our full potential,” Kiir said at the conclusion of a four-day health summit in Juba.

Minister of Health Riek Gai Kok said the policy envisions healthy livelihoods for South Sudanese by addressing main gaps in the health system such as quality control, public health laws and strengthening pharmaceutical distribution and storage.

Kok added that the policies would reduce infant and child maternal mortality through strengthening response to disease outbreaks and health infrastructure development.

According to the World Health Organization, South Sudan has one of the worst health indicators in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Life expectancy in the East African nation is 55 years, maternal mortality rate standing at over 2000 and infant mortality rate of 75 percent.


South Sudan demands rebels free 3 more oil local workers in detention

JUBA South Sudan (Xinhua) -- South Sudan on Friday demanded that rebels free the remaining local oil workers who were arrested alongside the three foreign workers released on Thursday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

President Salva Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Xinhua in Juba that the SPLA-in opposition (SPLA-IO) led by former first vice president Riek Machar should also release the three local oil workers.

“They have released the three foreign oil engineers, but they have not released three local staff,” Ateny said, adding that the trio could either be dead or being subjected to cruel torture.

The three oil workers including a Pakistan and two Indians working for the Dar Petroleum oil Company (DPOC) were captured early March in Maiwut County in the northern Upper Nile region.

“Either they (SPLA-IO) have killed them or still been torturing them. And this is an act of terrorism,” Ateny said.

The presidential spokesman also lauded the Ethiopian government for their efforts in negotiating the release of the foreign oil workers, but also urged the two neighboring countries to further help on the release of the local staff still being held by rebels.

“The Ethiopians should be appreciated, but also they should negotiate the release of the local staff still being detained,”Ateny said.

Meanwhile, the ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Mawien Makol told Xinhua that they have been working hard to ensure the release of all those detained by the rebels.

“Don’t forget our government has been working hard for those people detained to be released,” said Makol without disclosing more details.

The latest developments followed the release by the SPLA-IO of eight aid workers from U.S-based charity Samaritan’s Purse captured in March at Mayendit county of Unity state where famine was declared in February by the UN.

War-torn South Sudan since conflict broke out in December 2013, has been grappling to increase oil production in the northern Unity and Upper Nile oil fields after it drastically reduced from over 350,000 barrels a day (bpd) to about 130,000 bpd.

And currently the oil rich and yet impoverished country is faced with economic hardship amid soaring hyper inflation of 835 percent, and the latest kidnappings of oil workers could disrupt South Sudan’s priority of boosting the battered economy using the much-depended upon hard currency from oil sales.


South Sudan rebels vow no more release of abducted foreign oil workers in future

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- South Sudanese rebels allied to former first Vice President Riek Machar on Monday vowed never to release again any foreign oil workers captured near the war-torn country’s northern oil fields.

The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army-in opposition (SPLA-IO) spokesman William Deng Gatjiath said that they will no longer pardon any foreign oil workers captured again following last week’s release by rebels of three foreign oil workers.

“Definitely, this is the last warning for them (foreign oil workers) to leave the area, otherwise we will not release anyone again if we catch them,” he revealed.

“They are the ones prolonging this war because they help the government to acquire more armies or equipment,” he added.

Gatjiath also disclosed that the Pakistani engineer and two Indians working for the Dar petroleum oil company were released on the request of the Indian and Pakistan governments.

The SPLA-IO also in March freed eight aid workers working for the U.S-based charity Samaritan’s Purse captured in the Mayendit county area of northern Unity state where the United Nations in February declared famine with some 100,000 people starving and further one million on the brink.

Last month, six aid workers including four Kenyans were ambushed and killed by unknown gunmen along Juba-Pibor road bringing the number to 80 of aid workers killed since violence broke out in December 2013.

The rebel spokesman also disclosed that both foreign and national aid workers were free to access rebel controlled areas.

“Up to now they (aid workers) are working 24 hours in our liberated areas because those suffering are our communities. We don’t need to jeopardize the movement of humanitarian aid workers,” he said.

South Sudan’s oil dependent economy has been weakened amid hyper inflation of 835 percent caused by decline in oil production from over 350,000 barrels a day (bpd) to less than 130,000 bpd due to more than three years of ongoing conflict.

And the latest kidnappings of oil workers could further dent the transitional unity government’s hope of using badly needed hard currency from oil sales to cushion its weak economy.



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