LONDON, April 19 (Reuters) - Darfur's two main rebel groups called on the Sudanese government on Tuesday to stop oil exploration in the country's war ravaged western region until a resolution to the two-year-old conflict has been achieved.
Sudan on Tuesday said its ABCO corporation -- in which Swiss company Cliveden owns 37 percent -- had begun drilling for oil in Darfur, where preliminary studies showed there were "abundant" quantities of oil.
"The Sudanese people have never benefited from these (oil) discoveries," said Ahmed Hussein, the London-based spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement. "The oil must wait until a final peace deal is signed."
"We call upon international companies to not invest in Darfur under these conditions and under this regime," Hussein added.
Sudan's main oilfields are in the south and disputes over oil prolonged negotiations to end 20 years of civil war.
Mohamed Siddig, a spokesman for Sudan's Ministry of Energy and Mining, told Reuters by phone on Monday: "The drilling (in Darfur) was undertaken on the basis of the geological studies and surveys which proved the presence of oil in abundant quantities."
A peace deal signed in January revived interest in Sudan's potential oil reserves but analysts say the conflict in Darfur, where tens of thousands have been killed and at least 2 million driven from their homes, has scared off investors.
Sudan Liberation Movement spokesman Adam Ali Shogar told Reuters from the Chadian capital N'Djamena that the drilling for oil was a waste of time.
"I welcome this discovery for the Sudanese people but if they find oil -- even if they find gold --, without a just distribution of wealth and a resolution to the conflict it is pointless."
Sudan began exporting oil in 1998 and exports around 300,000 barrels per day, which is set to rise to 500,000 bpd by August. Work on the first Darfur oil well, southwest of El-Fasher in North Darfur State, is under way.
Analysts say the discovery of oil wealth could give the two sides of the conflict more to fight over.
"If you look back to the original demands made by the rebels at the start of the rebellion, they were asking for 80 percent of Darfur's oil wealth," Mohamed Issam, a Sudanese political analyst, told Reuters from Khartoum.
"Now they know for a fact the oil is there. The perception that the government is benefiting from Darfur's resources will fuel resentment and definitely complicate the (peace) negotiation process," he added.
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