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by Jalal Ghazi

Darfur Activists Say Bush Sanctions on Sudan Will do Little

(IPS) -- As Americans criticize China for putting profit ahead of human rights abuses in Sudan, Arab media say that the United States is in no position to judge. Arab officials and journalists say the Bush administration's focus on the "crisis in Darfur" has more to do with reclaiming Sudanese oil fields than carrying out a humanitarian mission.

Sudanese President Omar Al Bashier, who spoke with London-based Arab News Broadcast in December 2007, believes the dispute between the United States and Sudan did not start in 2003, when rebel groups rose up against the Sudanese government. Al Bashier argues that the countries were already feuding over oil two decades before the United States became concerned about the supposed one million refugees.

The American oil company Chevron made the first oil discovery in Sudan in 1979. Over the next few years, along with Shell, Chevron spent millions of dollars in extensive seismic testing and drilled some 52 wells. In 1983, Chevron came to an agreement with the Sudanese government and the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP) to jointly build an oil pipeline, linking Sudanese oil fields to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Chevron suspended its activities in Sudan after one of their facilities was attacked and three workers were killed during a civil war in the area.

However, journalist and political analysts Kahled al-Aa'esr says that American oil companies did not necessarily want to leave Sudan. The United States considered the Sudanese oil fields to be a part of their own oil reserves, and wanted access to these fields at a time of their choosing. Al-Aa'esr argues that this is what initially soured the relationship between the United States and Sudan.

"The American oil companies didn't fully develop Sudan's oil infrastructure at that time, but they wanted to come back in 40 or 50 years," al-Aa'esr says, when there was greater demand for oil and they could increase their profit margin.

The American oil companies did not want the Sudanese oil to go to China and Malaysia in the interim, which explains why they kept all their findings about Sudan's oil reserves secret, according to Sudanese President Omar Al Bashier. "The U.S. had all the information about the oil reserves in Sudan (from their research), but the Sudanese government did not know the size of the Sudanese oil reserves, the type of oil, or what kind of economic significance it had," he told ANB. "The Sudanese did not know any of this information. The Sudanese government had thought that it was not economically feasible to utilize Sudan's oil unless the price of oil reached $27. At the time the price of oil was only $16."

After years of trying to convince other oil companies to drill for oil in Sudan, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company – 40 percent of which is owned by China National Petroleum Corporation – finally built a pipeline in 1999 linking Sudanese oil fields to Port Sudan – just as Chevron had planned to do in 1984. Since then the GNPOC has made significant oil discoveries in Sudan, thus raising their known amount of reserves.

"China has won the hearts and minds of not only of the Sudanese people, but also the African nations," Mustafa Muhammad Abdullah, of Khartoum University's Institute of Afro-Asian Studies, told Al Jazeera. "Today, Sudan generates more than $2 billion in oil revenues and this would not have been possible if the Chinese had not drilled for oil in Sudan."

China not only provided poor African nations an alternative to Western oil companies; It also provided an alternative source of funding to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank's loans. China has offered these countries loans with easy terms and encouraged the construction of infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

As Al Jazeera reporter Muhammad Fal notes, "China's cooperation with African nations is not exclusive to oil investments. Beijing is now a strong partner in construction and development such as the large dam project in the Sudan, which the Sudanese expect to have a great positive impact on their lives. China trade with African countries has reached $37 billion and Beijing has pardoned 41 poor African countries of their debt, with no strings attached."

But China's success in Africa increased U.S. fears, Fal says. To protect its interests in Africa, he reports, the United States began building more military bases – like the one in Djibouti – just a few meters from the Chinese-Sudanese oil pipeline on the Red Sea. It also built bases in other parts of Africa including Senegal, Mali, Mauritania and Namibia – close to the Angolan oil installations.

In addition to a military presence in strategic areas, Fal adds, the United States has done all they can to win the hearts and minds of Darfurian refugees.

Cameron R. Hume, the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Sudan, told Al Jazeera, "By all standards, we are the biggest provider of humanitarian aid, especially food supplies in Darfur. The U.S. has provided 85 percent of food aid in Darfur."

But if humanitarian aid is its mission, many Arab journalists wonder why the Bush administration has prioritized the crisis in Darfur – which has claimed the lives of 300,000 people – over the neighboring Republic of Congo, where 5.4 million people have been killed since 1998.

The Bush administration's constant talk of "genocide" when describing Darfur rings hollow for many in the Arab media.

Khaled al-Mubarak, spokesperson for the Sudanese embassy in London, believes that the situation in Darfur has been exaggerated to create public support for the idea of a military intervention by NATO. Al-Mubarak cites Francis Fukuyama's 2006 op-ed in the New York Times, in which Fukuyama urged the Bush administration to intervene under the pretext of humanitarian intervention.

In the eyes of many Arab journalists, this is a recipe for a new Iraq. For example, an article titled "Dividing Iraq... Fragmenting Darfur" that appeared in the Jordanian Addustour newspaper, claims that the United States plans to divide Sudan just as it did Iraq as a way to control its oil resources. Similar claims have been made in the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al –Quds Al Arabi, whose editor-in chief Abd al-Bari Atwan accuses the U.S. government of trying to "make Darfur (into) Kurdistan."

The reason Arabs have trouble buying into the U.S. call for "humanitarian intervention" in Darfur is the U.S. record in Iraq, which has significantly damaged its credibility in the Middle East.

"America is the last country to talk about mass murder because they exercise it daily in Iraq," writes Atwan in Al –Quds Al Arabi. "They have occupied the country and terrorized its people without any respect for international laws. It is much worse than the Sudanese government that it is planning to overthrow."

Jalal Ghazi is the associate producer of the Peabody Award-winning show Mosaic: World News from the Middle East, and the author of the column "Eye on Arab Media" for New America Media.

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Albion Monitor   February 19, 2008   (

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