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India to send team to Sudan

New Delhi, Jan. 1: India is rushing a team of senior officials to South Sudan amid an increasingly bloody civil war that has silently led to an exodus of Indians from the world’s youngest nation and has claimed the lives of two Indian peacekeepers.

The team will leave for Juba before the end of the week, senior officials said, with the mandate to review the political and security chaos in the two-year-old country that is today hostage to a battle for power between President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar.

“It is a major, major crisis and one that affects India more than usual because of the presence of Indian peacekeepers,” a senior official told The Telegraph.

Over 2,200 Indian peacekeepers are a part of the 7,000-strong United Nations mission in South Sudan — the largest contingent of peacekeepers. Seven Indian peacekeepers were killed in 2013, including two in December, and India has articulated its concerns over the safety of peacekeepers at the UN.

The crisis in South Sudan comes at a time when India has indicated plans to enhance investments in the oil-rich nation carved out of Sudan in July 2011.

India, one of the first nations to recognise South Sudan’s independence, was preparing for a state visit by Kiir when he called off the planned trip in August when the first signs emerged that bloodletting was imminent in the young nation.

South Sudan has the highest proven oil reserves in Africa after Nigeria and Angola, an attraction for the energy-hungry Indian economy.

But last week, Indian state-owned petroleum giant ONGC’s international arm — ONGC Videsh Limited — decided to shut down work in two oilfields it runs in the Greater Nile region of South Sudan amid fears over the security of workers. All 11 Indians working at the oilfields have been evacuated, officials said.

In all, 750 of the about 1,000 Indians in South Sudan before the recent spate of violence have left the nation, flying out or driving to neighbouring countries, mainly Ethiopia, officials said.

About 100 Indians continue to work in three Indian-owned firms in Juba — a supermarket called JIT, a hotel named Panorama and at a construction company. Another 40 are working for Dubai-based Tristar, also in the South Sudan capital.

Sixty-eight more Indians — all from Tamil Nadu — working for the Dar Petroleum Operating Company jointly owned by China’s CNPC and Malaysia’s Petronas continue to remain in Palouge, a hamlet in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. And 21 others are working at a borehole company and a Russian oil firm in the central and western parts of the nation, officials said.