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Monday, August 30, 1999 Published at 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK

World: Africa

Sudan begins oil exports

The pipeline from this Heglig pumping station is under rebel threat

Sudan has finally joined the ranks of oil-exporting nations, sending an inaugural shipment of 600 thousand barrels of crude to Singapore.

The BBCs Barbara Plett: Exports may "inflame war in south of the country"
President Omar al-Beshir led a colourful ceremony at the specially built port of Beshair on the Red Sea, about 400 kms north-east of the capital, Khartoum.

Officials laughed and danced to traditional music in front of a chanting crowd as a tanker carrying the oil prepared to leave the harbour.

Sudan has been trying to develop its oil industry since the 1970s and during his speech President Beshir said the exports were a reward from God for Sudan's faithfulness.

Pipeline warning

However, a BBC correspondent in the region says the exports may also inflame the civil war in a deeply divided country.

She says rebels who are fighting for greater autonomy in the south have warned they will blow up the newly opened 1600 km pipeline which runs underground from Heglig oilfields in the south to Beshair.

The government has dismissed these threats and in his speech, President Beshir called the opposition "allies of the devil".

Companies from Sudan, China, Malaysia and Canada have been helping develop oil fields in south although it could be years until the consortium recovers the money it has invested.

IMF agreement

Officials admit initial gains will be modest, but are counting on the project to restore investor confidence in a country that has earned a reputation as a sponsor for terrorism.

Its thought the Heglig area has recoverable reserves of about 627 million barrels of crude and initially there are plans to pump 150,000 barrels a day.

The oil exports coincide with a decision by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the cost of servicing of Sudan's $20 billion foreign debt.

The IMF has also revoked a five year classification of Sudan as a "non-cooperating country" for failure to meet its foreign debt obligations.

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