By Carl Odera
PALOCH, South Sudan, March 2 (Reuters) - South Sudan's oil production is little changed since last month at 160,000 barrels per day, foreign workers are back at work and the government is in control of the oil fields in the main producing area of Upper Nile state, the oil minister said on Sunday.
Petroleum Minister Stephen Dhieu Dau was speaking on a trip to Paloch, site of an oil complex and key crude oil processing facility in the north of the country near the border with Sudan, which hosts the sole pipeline export route.
"I'm here to assure that the government is in full control of the situation in Upper Nile and in particular the oil fields," he told reporters invited to join him on the visit to Paloch in Upper Nile.
At 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) output is still roughly around the level reported before a battle last month over the nearby regional capital Malakal, the worst fighting since a Jan. 23 truce. The flare up raised worries output could be hit.
In February, an oil official said output was 167,000 to 168,000 bpd.
But production is still down a third on the 245,000 bpd recorded before the conflict first flared in December between troops backing President Salva Kiir and soldiers loyal to his sacked vice president, Riek Machar.
Production from neighbouring Unity state was halted earlier in the conflict, but Upper Nile has faced limited disruption.
Speaking from Paloch, Dau said: "The situation is normal. The oil field is fully operating, the employees are working normally - foreigners, nationals."
The minister said some non-essential staff had been temporarily evacuated because of recent fighting in the region but said they had all since returned. He did not give specifics.
Oil firms in South Sudan, a country the size of France, include China National Petroleum Corp, India's ONGC Videsh and Malaysia's Petronas.
Dau's comments were echoed by Liang Jindong, the production facility superintendent at Paloch, which is 400 miles (640 miles) north of South Sudan's capital Juba and 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Malakal.
"Now we have more than 400 wells running, so that means our facility is working normally, and export is normal," the superintendent said. (Reporting by Carl Odera; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
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