By Atem Simon
JUBA - Petroleum Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau has asserted that oilfields in South Sudan, currently seeing a rebellion led by sacked vice president Riek Machar, were well secured and that government troops were in full control of the oil-rich Unity and Upper Nile states.
In exclusive statements to Anadolu Agency, Dau dismissed reports that rebel forces were closing in on Upper Nile State's oilfields.
Earlier Friday, a presidential spokesman admitted that Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, had fallen to rebel forces.
But those forces, Dau stressed, remained far from oil-producing areas in the north of the state.
The minister added that rebel forces were using "psychological warfare" by claiming that they were approaching Upper Nile oilfields, which, he insisted, had been "totally secured" by the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when President Salva Kiir accused Machar of standing behind a failed coup attempt.
The violence has already claimed more than 10,000 lives.
The UN estimates that some 3.7 million South Sudanese are now "severely food insecure," while more than 867,000 have been displaced by the fighting.
The strategic city of Malakal has changed hands more than once since the conflict began more than two months ago.
This week, the city became the first site of combat since the two warring camps inked a cessation of hostilities agreement last month.
Since the conflict began, national oil output has fallen from 240,000 to 200,000 barrels per day after a number of oilfields in Unity State were "vandalized" by rebel forces, according to government statements.
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