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Published: Wednesday December 18, 2013 MYT 9:41:50 PM
Updated: Wednesday December 18, 2013 MYT 9:42:47 PM

Khartoum hopes South Sudan unrest won't spread to oil regions

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan hopes calm will return to South Sudan to avoid any spillover of ethnic conflict to oil-rich areas along their border, a Sudanese cabinet minister said on Wednesday after what the Juba government says was an attempted coup.

Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Belal Othman also told Reuters that the flow of South Sudanese oil to Sudan had not been interrupted by the unrest in Juba, which broke away from Khartoum in 2011 following a referendum on independence.

President Salva Kiir of South Sudan blamed the violence on his former deputy Riek Machar, whom he sacked earlier this year. The president hails from the Dinka ethnic group, while Machar is from the Nuer group.

"We hope calm will return to the South and that it does not turn into an ethnic conflict between the two tribes - the Dinka and the Nuer - particularly because the main oil areas are in Nuer tribal areas in Unity State," Othman told Reuters.

South Sudan's Unity State, which borders Sudan, was the scene of fierce conflict between the tribes that complicated efforts to end the civil war between the north and south. The war finished after more than two decades with the signing of an internationally-backed peace deal in 2005.

South Sudanese soldiers clashed on Wednesday near the flashpoint town of Bor, north of Juba, in fighting that has spread from the capital.

Underlining Khartoum's concern with events in South Sudan, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir called Kiir two days ago, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abu Bakr es-Sadiq said.

South Sudan, a landlocked country, pays fees to Sudan to refine its crude and export it from Port Sudan on the Red Sea, making the oil an important source of income for both states. "South Sudan's oil is flowing normally to Sudan," Othman said.

The United Nations has received reports from local sources in South Sudan that between 400 and 500 people had been killed in violence that began on Sunday night when fighting broke out between rival groups of soldiers.

Oil companies had been counting on a period of relative stability after South Sudan's independence so they could step up exploration. France's Total and some largely Asian groups, among them China's CNPC, have interests there.

(Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Tom Perry and Alister Doyle)

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