US diplomat in Chad to discuss oil-royalties dispute

A senior United States diplomat arrived in Chad’s capital on Monday to meet with officials about a dispute between the government and the World Bank over how the country uses oil royalties—a dispute that has the government threatening to shut off oil supplies by the week’s end.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto was scheduled to meet with President Idriss Déby, the foreign affairs minister and oil minister, as well as opposition leaders, officials of non-governmental organisations and representatives of the consortium that produces Chad’s oil.

Yamamoto is scheduled to leave Chad on Tuesday.

He declined to talk to journalists on arrival at N’djamena’s airport.

State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said on April 17 that Yamamoto will try to be an “honest broker” in bridging differences between Chad and the bank but emphasised that the diplomat was not mediating between the two sides.

Chadian officials have described Yamamoto as a “mediator” and World Bank officials have not commented on his visit. Officials of the Exxon Mobil-led consortium said that they are in talks with Chadian authorities, the World Bank and others about the threat to shut down the oil pipeline.

The World Bank helped finance Chad’s oil industry infrastructure after the country agreed to stringent rules on the use of revenues.

The bank froze an escrow account with $125-million in oil royalties in London in January and cut $124-million in financial aid.

Those decisions followed a vote by Chad’s Parliament in December to allow the release of more revenues to the government’s general budget instead of channelling them to health, education and infrastructure.

Chad threatened on April 15 to cut off oil deliveries if the funds are not released. The threat followed an unsuccessful rebel attack on April 13, during which the government said at least 350 people died.
Chad has said that it needs to spend oil revenues on arms to fight the rebels, as well as development. The World Bank objects and says previous oil revenues have not been properly accounted for.

McCormack said Yamamoto will also discuss with Chadian authorities the possibility of talks with the opposition, who together with non-governmental organisations have called for a national round table to discuss Chad’s most pressing problems, such as the rebellion and reforms needed to hold a credible presidential election on May 3.—Sapa-AP

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