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oil workers were at liberty by 9:00 p.m. on May 17, although it was unclear whether they were released by the SPLA or “freed” by the army in the course of its operation.466 Another prisoner incident was alleged during this period, involving the capture of twenty-three Chinese oil workers at Bentiu on the border of Block 5A and Block 1. The SPLM/A was the sole source of this capture story but denied any direct involvement, attributing it to “armed Sudanese.”467 These captives may, or may not, be the same as the twenty-three Chinese workers the SSDF alleged it captured at Guk in Block 5A, when the fighting began there in early May, and released in Bentiu a few days later.468 Much of the war-caused civilian population displacement in the vast inaccessible rural areas of southern Sudan has not been witnessed or seen by outsiders. The May 1999 government assault to drive civilians out of the rural Pariang area in Block 1, conducted at the beginning of the rainy season before army vehicles became useless, was an exception. In this instance, the displacement and its aftermath were witnessed by some Medair relief workers still on the ground, quoted above, followed by: (1) a visit from U.N. World Food Program food monitors469 followed by other WFP officials;470 (2) a Christian Solidarity 466 Ibid., “Sudan army says destroys... camps,” May 23, 1999.
467 The SPLM/A claimed that “armed Sudanese” took twenty-three Chinese oil workers employed by the CNPC captive in Bentiu during nearly a week of fighting the government there. “Sudan Rebels Claim 23 CNPC Oil Workers Captured,” AP, Cairo, May 8,
1999. A Chinese diplomat in Khartoum refused to answer any questions about any allegedly abducted Chinese oil workers. Ibid.;
Judith Achieng, “Foreign Oil Companies ordered to Vacate Immediately,” IPS, Nairobi, May 11, 1999. The Chinese embassy in Nairobi also refused to answer SPLM/A inquiries about what to do with the Chinese prisoners captured by the SPLA. SPLM official, Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, July 20, 1999. President Bashir later implicated Riek Machar in this action, but Machar denied involvement, explaining that men under Tito Biel’s command had gotten out of control. “The Southern Oil Mix-Up,” Indian Ocean Newsletter (Paris), May 15, 1999.
468 Simon Kun, interview, July 23, 1999. See below.
According to the WFP:
The WFP Officer for Jonglei and Upper Nile visited Ruweng County in Upper Nile at the end of May. She found the villages around the airstrips of Gumriak, Padit and Tajiel [had] been looted and burnt and the population displaced.
Flooding in 1998 and looting this year have seriously depleted local grain stores. Cultivation has not yet begun in the county, due to the lateness of the rains.... A recent nutritional survey carried out by MEDAIR in the Gumriak area in April [before the attack] found a global malnutrition rate of 20.3 % and a severe malnutrition rate of 7.1 %.
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Worldwide team471 traveling by chartered plane with a British journalist in June 1999;472 (3) another aid organization with a Canadian journalist in November 1999;473 and (4) the Canadian government human rights delegation in December 1999. Usually, military operations forcing displacement do not receive such extensive corroboration. But perhaps because this was in Talisman’s concession, it drew more attention.
One observer who visited the location shortly afterward observed that the looting and burning covered the whole area from Tagil to Gumriak to Padit. Many saw the burned tukls, food, and seeds. This was “just after a food distribution and seeds and tools distribution before the planting season, what would be the worst time to drive the people out.... I could not believe the devastation.”474 The Canadian human rights delegation likewise reported that the government soldiers had burned a large number of tukls, particularly along the road linking Tagil, Gumriak, and Padit, many with food stocks and seeds inside.475 Civilian survivors told the visitors that some 1,200 government soldiers had swept through Ruweng County, killing scores of civilians and burning more than 6,000 huts (reportedly 60 percent of the individual homes in the area, both Dinka and Nuer). The looting and burning apparently WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 89: 30 May-5 June 1999,” Rome, June 6, 1999.
470 “WFP conducted an emergency distribution in Tagiel and Gumriak in Upper Nile. The team was able to stay only three days in each location since they are considered high security risk areas following an attack on both locations in May 18.” WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 91, 13-19 June 1999,” Rome, June 24, 1999.
471 Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), “Fact-finding and Aid Mission to Southern Sudan, June 16- 22,” draft preliminary report, London, June 22, 1999. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British advocacy group that arrived on the scene a few weeks after the offensive, should not be confused with Christian Solidarity International (CSI), of which it was a part until mid-1998. CSW is based in London and headed by Baroness Caroline Cox; its activities in Sudan include but were not limited to slave redemptions, as witness this visit.
472 Damien Lewis, “Fight for Sudan’s Oil is Killing Civilians,” October 5, 1999.
473 Charlie Gillis, “Meeting the Victims of Sudan’s Oil Boom,” National Post (Toronto), November 27, 1999.
474 Field worker in southern Sudan, confidential communication to Human Rights Watch, April 30, 2000.
475 Harker report, p. 49.
took place as the government of Sudan forces withdrew to their garrison, leaving only scorched earth behind.476 The government’s displacement effort succeeded in scattering residents south to the Nuer areas, north to the Nuba Mountains, and to Pariang town. The displaced were mostly Ruweng (Panaru) Dinka families, but included some already displaced Nuer who had sought shelter in that Dinka area. After the government forces withdrew, some civilians and the SPLA returned to the burned areas around Gumriak, but many did not.477 Relief workers found that many who had fled these May 1999 attacks remained too frightened to come out of the swamps in July, and by November many had left the area altogether. A WFP official who visited the area in April and in July 1999 noted that before the attack, 32,000 people had been on the food distribution list in the nearby Biem area, an SPLM/A zone. At a food drop in November 1999, less than 10,000 people were left.478 The governor of Unity State said the attack affected and at least partially destroyed an estimated two-thirds of the villages in the Pariang area (Ruweng County).479 From April to July 1999, the decline in population in Ruweng County—caused by government-instigated displacement—was estimated to have been in the order of 50 percent.480 476 The SRRA assessed there were 6,667 needy households in Gumriak. Benjamin Majok, Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, Kenya, August 22, 1999. Benjamin Majok, an SPLA commander and former head of the relief wing of the SPLM/A, was from Ruweng County.
477 The SPLM/A subsequently said it reoccupied the Gumriak, Padit, and Tagil areas in early June, after the withdrawal of the government forces. An SPLA commander in the Pariang area also claimed the SPLA prevented the government troops from making forays into the countryside from the Pariang garrison three times later that year. Benjamin Majok, interview, August 22, 1999.
478 Harker report, p. 48.
479 Taban Deng, interview, July 26, 1999.
480 The population of Gumriak, for instance, declined from 9,474 to 5,274. Harker report, p. 49.
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Relief organizations postponed food delivery to Pariang town in May at Sudanese government request.481 The OLS (Southern Sector) reported government army attacks, including burning and looting, had occurred again at Padit, Gumriak, and Tagil on June 3.482 Although these SPLM/A areas were approved for quick food delivery interventions, this did not suffice to prevent malnutrition from growing.483 During the week of June 16, a U.N./government of Sudan/NGO team visited government-controlled Pariang town and reported the presence of 3,379 newly arrived internally displaced persons. About fifty displaced persons a day were arriving in Pariang as a result of the fighting in the surrounding areas.484 The WFP—the only OLS agency allowed to operate in the area because “the security situation is still very fragile”—distributed emergency food supplies to 40,128 people in Tagil and Gumriak in the middle of June. The WFP team reported “clear visual evidence of malnutrition in both locations.”485 Meanwhile, Bentiu itself was so insecure that the WFP relocated its staff from there during the week of June 30, on the recommendation of a Khartoum-based WFP security officer.486 481 Government officials in late May advised the U.N. OLS to defer delivery and distribution of food to approximately 4,000
beneficiaries in the government garrison town Pariang, due to continuous fighting. U.N. OLS (Northern Sector), “Weekly Report:
May 26, 1999,” Khartoum, May 26, 1999.
482 U.N. OLS (Southern Sector), “Weekly Report: June 6, 1999,” Nairobi, June 7, 1999.
483 WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 89: 30 May-5 June 1999,” Rome, June 6, 1999.
484 U.N. OLS (Northern Sector), “Weekly Report: June 16, 1999,” Khartoum, June 16, 1999.
485 WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 91: June 13-19, 1999,” Rome, June 24, 1999. Note that the 42,000 population “in need” estimate is higher than the 25,000-30,000 Ruweng County total population estimate made by an assessment team in Padit in January 1998 (above, Part I, The Arakis Period). The difference may be in part exaggeration, in part continual population movement, and in part the notorious difficulty of arriving at accurate numbers in emergency operations in southern Sudan. Displacement in and out of the area, however, had definitely stepped up between January 1998 and July 1999. A population shift of 15,000-20,000 within a year and a half due to fighting is entirely possible.
486 U.N. OLS (Northern Sector), “Weekly Report: June 30, 1999,” Khartoum, June 30, 1999.
WFP received reports from the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association (SRRA), the relief wing of the SPLM/A, in late July 1999 of an estimated 42,000 persons in SPLA-controlled areas of Ruweng County who might require food and non-food relief. 487 On July 24, 1999, the government of Sudan completely destroyed Bolyar village, north of Bentiu on a road between Pariang and Bentiu, apparently very close to Athonj and the El Toor oilfield. (Map C) Some 4,000 people fled south to Kueldit Payam (subcounty), which borders the Bahr El Ghazal (Nam) River.488 But even though these attacks involved the forcible uprooting of thousands, this clearance of civilians was dwarfed by the abuses simultaneously taking place in Block 5A.
487 WFP, “Sudan Bulletin No. 94: July 4-10, 1999,” Rome, July 26, 1999.
488 Benjamin Majok, interview, August 22, 1999.
Overview As the nascent Sudanese oil industry prepared to bear its first real fruits for the government, oil exploration in the south took on a new momentum. The projected completion of the GNPOC pipeline from Blocks 1 and 2 to the Red Sea in June 1999, with exports projected for a few months later, brought pressure on the developers of other blocks. Block 5A, adjacent to Block 1, immediately began to look not only commercially viable, since a hookup to the Block 1 pipeline only seventy-five to one hundred kilometers away was available, but also very attractive as Talisman continued to prospect for and find new wells in its concession.
The goverment of Sudan made clear its intention to move its troops, escorted by Paulino Matiep’s Nuer militia, into Block 5A to protect the only Lundin exploratory drilling location in that block, at Ryer/Thar Jath. At the same time, the SSDF forces of Riek Machar reacted by attacking the Lundin exploratory site, permitting the one hundred person crew to evacuate but summarily executing three Sudanese government employees. The SSDF inflicted little infrastructure damage. Then it withdrew from the location to fight off the joint Paulino Matiep/government advance, which it failed to block for lack of ammunition.
The government/Paulino Matiep advance reached Ryer/Thar Jath, Duar, Koch, Ler, and the river at Mayandit, driving frightened civilians and SSDF forces before it, in a matter of days. Leaving the Paulino Matiep forces to guard Ler and Ryer/Thar Jath, the government forces withdrew north to Bentiu, having abducted women and boys to porter their loot, burned homes, raped women, and sowed fear.
The SSDF fled with the Dok, Jikany, and Jagei Nuer civilians in several directions—one large group fled into Dinka/SPLA territory to the west (an unheard of refuge prior to the Wunlit peace agreement a few months earlier). There, the SSDF entered into negotiations with the SPLA which gave the beleaguered
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commanders ammunition to fight the Sudanese government. The SSDF launched a surprise attack on the Paulino Matiep forces present in Ler on July 3, chasing them to the northern part of Block 5A before the government intervened with helicopters and Antonovs to stop the advance at the garrison town of Wangkei. The SSDF again ran out of ammunition again and retreated south to Nyal, a Nyuong Nuer site considered well protected by the sudd in Block 5B, south of Block 5A.
Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep reportedly retaliated in anger against this SSDF surprise attack on Ler. His men detained many and killed some SSDF/UDSF civilians, among them state ministers, in Bentiu on July 11-12, 1999. This provoked a civilian exodus from Bentiu. The government announced a flight ban on most of Western Upper Nile/Unity State in the middle of July 1999. The civilians, who had fled the main towns and villages for safety ahead of Paulino Matiep’s advance, were cut off without food or emergency supplies.
But the freshly-defected SSDF/Riek Machar rebels had succeeded in their goal: they had shut down the Lundin operation.
Battle for Control of Block 5A: First Rebel Attack on Oil Operations Since 1984;