Watchdog alleges discrepancies in Sudan oil figures

Sudan’s central government could owe its semi-autonomous south hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenue, threatening a 2005 peace deal that ended Sudan’s two-decade civil war, a watchdog group said on Monday.

London-based Global Witness said it has found discrepancies in reports of Sudan’s oil production, which “raises serious questions about whether the revenues are being shared fairly” between north and south, the report said.

The group called for an independent, third-party audit of Sudan’s oil production.

“Our findings do not necessarily mean that Khartoum has cheated the south out of money, but they do highlight the need for transparency,” said the author of the report, Rosie Sharpe.

Sudanese government officials were not immediately available for comment. Sudan’s oil reserves are estimated by some to be in the range of 6,5-billion barrels.

Sudan’s Muslim north and Christian south fought a two-decade civil war that ended in 2005. Under a peace deal, both sides agreed to share the country’s oil wealth, most of which is located in the south.
The fight over oil resources was a major trigger in the civil war and continues to threaten the peace between the former rivals.

Sudan is scheduled to hold a referendum in January 2011 on whether South Sudan should become independent. Oil is a major issue surrounding the vote—southern Sudan’s budget is 98% dependent on oil revenues, but the north has a monopoly over marketing and exporting the south’s oil.

The Global Witness report said the oil production figures put out by the government are lower than those put out by the main Chinese operator of Sudan’s oil fields. The discrepancies vary from 9% to 26% over the years and from field to field.

Global Witness estimates Khartoum could owe the south hundreds of millions of dollars. If the undercount were as much as 10%, the north would owe about $600-million based on southern Sudan’s oil earnings of $6-billion since 2005.

“Unless the government of southern Sudan and Sudanese citizens can verify that the revenue sharing is fair, mistrust will grow and the peace agreement could be jeopardized,” Sharpe said.

Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo.—Sapa-AP

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