Uganda finalizes talks with oil companies

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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- Uganda's government says it has finalized negotiations with foreign oil companies exploring in the country, clearing the way for to start commercial crude production.

The office of Energy Minister Irene Muloni said Monday that the government is set to sign a memorandum of understanding with the companies: Britain's Tullow Oil, France's Total, and state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. It remains unclear when that will happen.

Uganda has confirmed oil reserves of 3.5 billion barrels but production is not expected to start until 2016.

The watchdog group Global Witness says Uganda's oil sector "has been characterized by a lack of transparency" as exploration deals have been "done behind closed doors." It adds "it is not currently possible to track payments into government budgets."