By Khalid Abdelaziz
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan said that rebels based in South Sudan had attacked a pipeline in its Diffra oilfield on Wednesday, causing an explosion and fire that lasted for several hours.
Army spokesman al-Sawarmi Khalid said on Thursday the pipeline, which runs through Diffra oilfield to the Heglig processing facility, was being repaired to restore the flow of oil.
Khalid said in an emailed statement to Reuters that rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of Sudan's biggest rebel groups, launched their attack from South Sudan's Unity state and were supplied with "engineering devices" from the southern army.
The Diffra field, whose output makes up less than one percent of Sudan's annual production, is in the disputed Abyei territory which both countries claim.
Sudan has been operating it since South Sudan seceded in 2011. The field is part of a block run by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), a consortium of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Sudanese companies.
South Sudan denied any role in the attack.
"We cannot do that at a time when we want the oil to flow," said Mawien Makol Arik, spokesman for South Sudan's foreign affairs ministry told Reuters.
Both countries accuse each other of backing rebels on the other's territory, one of several conflicts stemming from the messy split of what was once Africa's largest country.
Management of the countries' shared oil industry is another issue that has brought both countries close to full-brown war since they split two years ago.
Sudan officially informed South Sudan on Tuesday that it would stop allowing its neighbor to export crude through its territory within two months unless Juba gave up support for insurgents operating across their shared borders.
That row threatens to hit supplies to Asian buyers such as China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), India's ONCG Videsh and Malaysia's Petronas, which run the oilfields in both countries.
Diplomats doubt Sudan will actually close the two cross-border export pipelines because its economy has been suffering without South Sudan's pipeline fees.
Oil used to be the main source for Sudan's budget until southern secession in July 2011, when Khartoum lost 75 percent of its oil production and its status as oil exporter overnight.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Additional reporting by Andrew Green in Juba; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by William Hardy)