Juba — South Sudan's oil minister Stephen Dhieu Dau said on Monday that oil-production has continued despite the violence that has swept through the country over the last week, since a clash within the presidential guards on 15 December.
The number of workers at oil fields in Unity and Upper Nile states has been reduced, minister Dau told reporters.
"Oil continues to flow normally in Upper Nile state. There is no problem there. It is only in Unity state where there are some issues but it has not stopped flowing. We only reduced the number of workers in Unity state to minimal level because of security reasons", he said.
Dau did not comment on whether the reduction in workforce would affect normal production levels and the amount of oil that is exported to international markets through neighbouring Sudan.
The commander of the South Sudanese army in Unity state defected over the weekend and has appointed himself as the state's new governor, siding with South Sudan's former vice president Riek Machar who is leading a rebellion against president Salva Kiir.
Machar has denied Kiir's allegation that he attempted to staged a coup a week ago but now says that he wants the president to stand down. South Sudan's army is preparing for an offensive in Jonglei to retake the state capital Bor.
Following reports that Nuer civilians were targetted during the violence in Juba General Peter Gadet led a mutiny in Bor that has displaced thousands of civilians and forced government officials to shelter at the UN compound there.
An official at the ministry of petroleum and mining, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Sudan Tribune that as well as all foreign staff, workers from the Dinka ethnic group and others who asked to leave have been removed from Unity state.
Clashes between oil workers from rival clans at the Unity and Tharjath oil fields on last week killed 16 people with over 200 people forced to seek refuge in the UN compound in Bentiu town.
Oil company employees from the Nuer ethnic group attacked their Dinka colleagues - reportedly using spears, sticks and knives - as revenge for the alleged targetting of Nuer civilians in Juba since in the fighting broke out on a week ago.
Tensions have been building in the Nuer community in Bentiu after the clashes in Juba left around 500 people dead. Human Rights Watch and others have reported that some civilians were targetted on the basis of their ethnicity.
The ministry official said that what Dau said was "correct in the sense that oil production in Unity state has not been fully closed down at the moment. What happened is that the ministry decided to remove foreign and those local workers who are not from [the] Nuer [tribe], together with those who have expressed deep concern about their safety, even though they were not being targeted."
He says the ministry was forced to scale-down operations because the current unrest in the country had taken on an "ethnic dimension", between Nuer and Dinka after the clashes between the Presidential Guard began in Juba over a week ago.
"The ministry was forced to take these measures because you may have heard what happened last week in Tharjath between the workers themselves and the events in Parieng and Bentiu respectively. Workers turned against their own colleagues and killed. The same way soldiers did in Parieng Bentiu. The incident in Juba was misinterpreted by the politicians to appeal tribal sentiments", he said.
The ministry source said he could not provide the total number of the workers the ministry had approved to remain at the oil fields or the numbers that have been removed as they were still assembling details from the oil companies working at the Unity and Upper Nile state.