by Katy Salmon
|(IPS) NAIROBI --
the oil-rich areas of Sudan, government troops are terrorizing, raping, killing and displacing thousands of ordinary people to facilitate the extraction of the country's "black gold," rights groups say.
The British development agency Christian Aid has called on foreign oil companies to immediately suspend operations in Sudan -- and to use their influence to bring about a just and lasting peace.
Christian Aid has eyewitness reports that Sudanese government forces and sponsored militias are using "scorched earth" tactics to clear village after village -- bombing, strafing and attacking from the ground to empty the land of civilians.
"Since oil began to pump through the pipeline 18 months ago, there have been thousands of deaths and displacements," says Dan Collison, head of the agency's Sudan programme in Nairobi. "Along the new oil road in the Lundin concession, we are told, dozens of villages have been razed to the ground. Oil companies such as Lundin, Talisman and CNPC can no longer justify doing business in Sudan."
Talisman is a Canadian company, the CNPC is the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, and Lundin is Swedish.
The Sudanese government denies that it is practicing a scorched earth policy. But independent observers are rarely allowed into the oil concessions, and the government routinely denies permission for emergency food aid flights -- a virtual death sentence for most of the needy people in southern Sudan.
Christian Aid's recent report, "The scorched earth: oil and war in Sudan," cites testimony of Sudanese people displaced from the oil areas. "The worst thing was the gunships," says Zeinab Nyacieng, a Nuer woman driven hundreds of kilometers from her home late last year after two of her children were killed in a raid. "I never saw them before last year. But now they are like rain."
"Before oil, our region was peaceful," Malony Kolang, a Nuer chief, told Christian Aid. "People were cultivating with their cattle. When the pumping began, the war began. Antonovs and helicopter gunships began attacking the villages. All the farms have been destroyed. Everything around the oil fields has been destroyed. Oil has brought death."
Such displaced people are highly vulnerable to famine. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the main rebel group in southern Sudan, says more than two million people in the Bahr el Ghazal region -- west of the oil fields -- are now facing famine due to displacement, drought and war. It is currently the dry season and fighting is at a peak. The SPLA is appealing for international assistance to prevent a repetition of a similar crisis experienced in 1998.
Sudan's long-running civil war pits myriad rebel groups, fighting for increased autonomy or independence in the Christian south, against an Islamic government in the north. Government forces hold most of the southern towns and rebels control the countryside. Since the SPLA took up arms in 1983, some two million people have died from the fighting and accompanying famines.
Justin Arop Yaac, an SPLA representative in Nairobi, says the Sudanese government has lost interest in peace since it discovered oil in the south, attracting interest from Canadian, French, Chinese and Malaysian multinationals.
oil came on stream 18 months ago, Sudan has become an oil exporter, earning enough to pay for the estimated $1 million it spends daily on the war. Oil revenue is funding the expansion of its war effort. On the day of the first export shipment of oil in 1999, 20 Polish T-55 tanks arrived in Port Sudan in violation of a European Union arms embargo. Defense spending has doubled.
Agreeing with Christian Aid, Yaac says thousands of people are being bombed out of the Upper Nile region to create a buffer zone so that the multinationals can drill for oil in peace.
"The people in western Upper Nile have been displaced to Bahr el Ghazal because the government has apportioned the areas to these multinational companies. They would like to have the place empty of people for the security that is being demanded by the oil companies," says Yaac. "The only way is to displace the people to prove to the multinationals that there are no people there, you are free."
Christian Aid says the oil companies are even allowing their airstrips and roads to be used by government helicopter gunships and Antonovs. Not a single oil company has spoken out against the government's well-documented scorched earth strategy.
The principal company involved in Sudan is the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, a joint venture which includes Canada's Talisman Energy (25 percent), the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (40 percent), Malaysia's Petronas (30 percent) and Sudapet (5 percent).
Other operators include Sweden's Lundin Oil, OMV of Austria and The Gulf Petroleum Corporation of Qatar. France's TotalFinaElf owns an as-yet-unexploited 120,000 sq km concession in the south of the country.
Talisman, Canada's largest independent oil and gas company, has faced widespread public pressure to pull out of Sudan. The Canadian government's Harket commission, the United Nations and Amnesty International have all provided evidence that its presence in Sudan is encouraging human rights atrocities. But Talisman denies complicity.
Talisman claims that it is a "force for peace." Its general manager in Sudan, Ralph Capeling, says his company is "positive on the concept of constructive engagement".
Talisman says it is helping the local population by building schools, health centers and water wells. It plans to spend $2 million on community development this year, more than double last year's budget.
Many argue that this is just a publicity stunt. Yaac says Talisman is only providing these amenities to government-held villages. Three-quarters of the people, who do not support the government, are being bombed and driven west to Bahr el Ghazal, where they are in the early stages of famine.
"The dispensaries are being made for people who have already surrendered to the Sudan government. Khartoum will give them little services that will be shown to the journalists when they come," he says. "They don't take them to the areas where the Sudan government has done the destruction. The whole areas of people supporting the SPLA are being bombed. They are being bombed day and night."
Talisman is proud of the fact that the Khartoum government recently invited one of its south Sudanese employees to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. The company says this is evidence of how its presence is bringing about changes in attitudes on human rights.
Instead of heeding calls to divest, Talisman shareholders last year endorsed the principle of monitoring compliance with an international code of ethics for Canadian business. They also voted for an independent audit on Talisman's operations in Sudan, which will be completed later this year.
Meanwhile, TotalFinaElf is preparing to start exploiting its new 120,000 sq km concession. Located deep inside territory controlled by the SPLA, which has declared oil installations a legitimate military target, the only way to drill for and extract oil here will be with an advance military effort.
April 9, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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