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SKorea group to continue Kurdistan project despite Iraqi threat

26 December, 2007

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State-run Korea National Oil Corp said Wednesday it would not abandon an exploration project in Iraqi Kurdistan despite threats by the central Iraqi government to cut off oil supplies to South Korea.

"There is no change in our position to go ahead with the project," Jang Soo-Bum, an official in charge of exploration projects, told AFP.

The corporation is part of a South Korean consortium which last month signed a deal with the Kurdistan government to explore the Bazian field, which is estimated to hold 500 million barrels of crude oil.

The energy ministry confirmed that Baghdad has threatened to stop crude oil exports to South Korea because it had not authorised the Kurdistan deal.

The warning was delivered through South Korea's top refiner SK Energy, which is involved in the deal, a ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Iraq has threatened to suspend crude exports from January, demanding the South Korean consortium cancel its deal with the Kurdish government," he said.

Local newspapers have said Britain's BP and an Austrian state energy developer received similar warnings over their deals with the semi-autonomous region.

"We are trying to solve this problem through negotiations," the ministry official said, adding Iraq had been at odds with regional governments over control of new exploration areas.

Officials said the dispute would not badly hit overall oil imports.

South Korea has imported 37 million barrels from Iraq so far this year, or 5.2 percent of total crude imports.

Seoul has about 600 troops stationed in the Kurdish region for reconstruction projects.

South Korea's parliament is expected to vote Friday on whether to extend the contingent's stay until next December, as the Seoul government wants.


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