China calls for oil worker safety in Sudan, Ethiopia

The Chinese government has called for the safety of its oil workers in two African countries, citing the dangers to operations posed by antigovernment rebels in Sudan and Ethiopia.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 13 -- The Chinese government has called for the safety of its oil workers in two African countries, citing the dangers to operations posed by antigovernment rebels in Sudan and Ethiopia.

On Dec. 12, China called for the safety of its citizens in Sudan to be guaranteed just a day after rebels there attacked for the second time an oil field being run by a Chinese company.

"Any threats or attacks on Chinese organizations or people in Sudan are unacceptable," said the Chinese foreign ministry in a statement. "The safety of Chinese personnel in Sudan must be effectively guaranteed," it said.

The Sudanese government acknowledged that about 20 rebels attacked an army camp near an oil facility, but it said that the attack had been repelled.

On Dec. 11, rebels in Darfur said they had seized control of the 35,000 b/d Rahaw oil field operated by China's Great Wall Co., killing and wounding several government protection forces there.

Abdel Aziz Nur al-Ashr, commander of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), said his group had neutralized the site's military protection force, taken possession of the facilities, and halted production.

Al-Ashr said JEM's attack represented a second attempt at forcing Chinese companies to leave the country. He said the attacks would continue until China ended its operations altogether.

JEM's earlier attack was on a field in Kordofan run by Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co. (GNOPC), a consortium comprised of China National Petroleum Corp., India's Oil & Natural Gas Corp., Malaysia's Petronas, and Sudan's Sudapet.

In October, the Sudanese government dismissed threats to attack oil fields made by JEM rebels who claimed to have carried out the assault (OGJ Online, Oct. 29, 2007).

Ethiopia trouble
Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, China's Zhoungyan Petroleum Exploration Bureau (ZPEB), has refused to resume work on oil exploration projects in the Ogaden basin in the southwestern region of that country.

Contracted by Petronas and South-West Energy, a company licensed in Hong Kong, ZPEB had been conducting seismic surveys in the Ogaden region of the Somali regional state.

ZPEB, however, suspended operations in April after an attack by the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) on the Abole exploration site in the Degeh Bur zone. Seventy-four people, including nine Chinese workers, were killed in the attack.

The Ethiopian Ministry of Mines and Energy has demanded that Petronas and South-West Energy resume work on the exploration projects, but the ministry also has acknowledged that ZPEB's parent company, Sino Tech, will not allow operations to continue until the security of its workers can be assured.

In April, China said it was taking steps to improve the safety of its overseas workers following an Apr. 24 attack on the oil exploration site in Ethiopia in which the nine Chinese workers were killed and seven taken hostage (OGJ Online, Apr. 26, 2007).

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

More in General Interest