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Lundin Evacuates, May 1999 The events of April-May 1999 marked the beginning of the real battle between the government and former rebels over control of Block 5A oilfields in Western Upper Nile/Unity State.489 Once again, the fighting was about which armed group would control the Nuer area and “protect” and benefit from the oil operations: the government army and its loyal Nuer allies, or the Nuer ex-rebel SSDF under Riek Machar, who aspired to participation in the oilfields in Nuer territory as a result of the Khartoum Peace Agreement.
489 Although there had been fighting in the Block 5A areas in 1998, the government troops and mujahedeen had not overtly taken part but were content to have the fighting perceived as “Nuer on Nuer.”
On April 8, 1999, Lundin announced its first exploratory well in Block 5A, at Thar Jath (the locals called the location Ryer). In short time, Lundin discovered a “substantial” oil deposit there, containing as much as 300 million barrels.490 (In 2002, a reserve study showed that the Thar Jath Field in Block 5A had proven and probable recoverable reserves of 149.1 million barrels of oil.491) The central government already had a few agents assigned to Lundin’s security team at Ryer/Thar Jath, as did the SSDF. But the “substantial” find there added a sense of urgency to the government’s desire for military control; it wanted to post its own troops to guard the oilfield. Lundin’s security representative was said to be negotiating with both Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s militia and Cmdr. Tito Biel of the SSDF about the company’s future operations.492 The oil company reportedly had evacuation plans in place for Ryer/Thar Jath, just in case.493 Following the withdrawal of most of Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces from Ler and other areas in October 1998, residents had returned from the toic and started rebuilding. In February and March 1999, the government warned the people of Ler not to build too near its army barracks at Pajak. When the chiefs tried to discuss this, the government rebuffed them: “Forget about it. No further talks.”494 By late March 1999, some 30,000 people received food relief in Ler, most of them displaced from other parts of Western Upper Nile.495 490 AJackpot for Lundin Oil in Sudan,@ Finanstidningen, May 21, 1999; ALundin, OMV Claim Substantial Find in Sudan,@ Platt=s Oilgram News (New York,), May 21, 1999.
491 The study was done by Resource Investment Strategy Consultants of Perth, Australia, for Lundin. Lundin Petroleum, Report for the period ended December 31, 2001, http://www.Lundin-petroleum.com/Documents/qr_4_2001_e.pdf (accessed May 28, 2002).
492 Taban Deng, interview, July 26, 1999; employee of security consultant to oil company, Human Rights Watch telephone interview, September 8, 1999 (anonymity requested).
494 Michael Wal, interview, August 18, 1999.
495 U.N. OLS (Southern Sector), “Weekly Report: March 15-21, 1999,” Nairobi, March 21, 1999.
198Oil Fuels the War
According to participants, representatives of the Khartoum government and UDSF/SSDF held a meeting in Bentiu, state government capital, on or about April 24, 1999. The government had already started negotiating with Gov. Taban Deng, Riek Machar, and local field commanders to expand Khartoum’s presence in Ler and put regular Sudanese army troops at Duar.
At the Bentiu meeting, ministry of defense representatives told Riek Machar and his colleagues that the government army would protect all the oil areas in Western Upper Nile/Unity State. There was no agreement on this, however. Cmdr. Tito Biel, whose SSDF forces controlled the area south of Bentiu, insisted that he would retain responsibility for “protecting” these oilfields.496 Another SSDF commander
described the discussion:
We said the oil workers can go there, but not the government of Sudan. The government of Sudan refused this. We said the presence of two armies would involve problems. They said that the [government] army should be free to go anywhere in Bentiu [Unity State]. This is a violation of the Khartoum Peace Agreement, [we said,] which requires [our] consultation and approval.497 After these UDSF/SSDF officials again refused the government request to position government troops south of Bentiu, Gov.Taban Deng was removed by Paulino Matiep. On April 29, Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep wrote a letter to Taban Deng, expressing government lack of trust in the UDSF/SSDF and accusing it of posing obstacles to oil development: “Your meeting with Garang’s movement in the area of Wunlit [the NSCC People-to-People conference] was meant to delay the process of petroleum refining, and to disrupt peace in the area,”498 he charged. The government apparently feared that the 496 Tito Biel, interview, August 19, 1999.
497 Elijah Hon Top, interview, July 26, 1999.
498 Letter, Paulino Matiep to Taban Deng Gai, Bentiu, Unity State, April 29, 1999. Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep cited several military actions directed by Gov. Taban Deng indicating to him that the UDSF supported the SPLM/A.
grassroots reconciliation effort would jeopardize its war plans to divide and displace, and capture the prize: oil.
Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep then gave Governor Deng and other UDSF supporters three hours to leave the state, under threat of arrest.499 Taban Deng left on April 30, having negotiated a slight extension of his three-hour deadline. According to the governor, the Bentiu security committee initially sympathised
According to Taban Deng, the security officers returned and informed him that Paulino Matiep had the backing of the government in Khartoum, so he (Taban Deng) should leave Bentiu. The deposed governor then went to Khartoum and met with First Vice President Ali Osman Taha and President Omar El Bashir, who claimed they could not control Paulino Matiep, and would look into the situation;
but nothing happened. Taban Deng marks the beginning of the 1999 fighting from the time of his expulsion: “When I left, everything was all right, tranquil. After that, Tito Biel and Paulino started fighting. Many were displaced.”500 499 Ibid.
500 Taban Deng, interview, July 26, 1999.
The governor was not the only person to be expelled from Bentiu town. Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep also required SSDF soldiers to leave, replacing them with his own militia, while reportedly detaining other
pro-Riek Machar officials:
Seventy-five officials were arrested from Bentiu in April  by Paulino with the help of the army. Some have probably been killed. We talked to everyone from the minister of defense to the president, who promised to send a committee to investigate. Up until now [August 1999, four months], nothing has happened.501 According to Makuac Youk, UDSF spokesperson in Khartoum, Paulino Matiep removed the seventyfive captives to his military base at Mankien, and the UDSF feared for their lives.502 By early May 1999, the power-sharing provisions of the Khartoum Peace Agreement had been abandoned in all but name. President Bashir issued a decree on May 8 canceling recent decisions issued by the UDSF governor of Unity State, Taban Deng, all relating to office holders.503 Fighting Begins As Army Troops Attempt to Occupy Oil Rig Following the expulsion of Taban Deng, the government ordered Paulino Matiep to go from Rubkona to Bentiu with his troops and from there to serve as an escort for the army overland to the Lundin oil 501 Ibid. Those arrested during this April 1999 wave of arrests allegedly included Bol Riel Gatluak, an ex-Minister of Parliament from Unity State and commissioner for Payinjar (Nyal and Ganyliel), who was feared dead in custody; Chol Met, also an ex-minister of parliament from Unity State; and former Deputy Cmdr. Riek Lor Jiok, an executive officer of the state. Others included ex-Alt. Cmdr.
Dok Wangang, an executive officer (believed to have been lashed to death); ex-Alt. Cmdr. Jol Banak; and James Pui Yeek, a former adjutant to Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep who reportedly had worked with the ICRC in Lokichokkio, Kenya. SSDF officer, interview, August 3, 1999. Those who were still held in Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s base at Mankien when Cmdr. Peter Gatdet captured it in September 1999 were freed.
502 Makuac Youk also accused major Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep of removing furniture from government offices in Bentiu and taking it to Mankien in a government helicopter. Alfred Taban, “Rival Militias Feud in Sudan’s Unity Oil State,” Reuters, Khartoum, May 31, 1999.
503 “President of the Republic Cancels Decisions Issued by Wohda [Unity] State’s Wali [Governor],” SUNA, Khartoum, May 8, 1999.
201Human Rights Watch
exploratory rig at Ryer/Thar Jath, and on to the Ler (Payak) garrison.504 The government meant business. A convoy of fifteen trucks with almost 400 troops and heavy weapons moved south from Bentiu into the area in late April, flanked by an escort of more than 1,000 of Paulino Matiep’s militiamen and others.505 After being warned by five SSDF soldiers stationed in Guk of the troop movement, an SSDF contingent from Koch moved up and ambushed the government troop convoy at a place two hours south of Bentiu and one and a half hours from Guk. Supported by government artillery, Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces broke through the ambush.506 Before government forces could reach the location, however, Cmdr. Tito Biel’s SSDF forces hit the camp where the oil workers slept at Ryer/Thar Jath at about 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., most likely on May 2. A small SSDF contingent sought out and summarily executed two northern Sudanese government employees found there, and fatally injured a third.507 The three northerners worked for the government 504 Cmdr. Peter Gatdet, then serving under Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep, was given this assignment. John Noble, WFP security official, Human Rights Watch interview, Lokichokkio, Kenya, July 31, 2000. The government wanted to send forces to two adjoining Lundin sites in Block 5A, Guk and Ryer/Thar Jath, with an escort of Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s militia. According to additional sources, Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep wanted to prevent the resumption of fighting between his troops and the SSDF. Paulino Matiep reportedly convinced the Sudanese government that it should send in the forces by helicopter, without his escort, instead of overland. He then appealed to rival and SSDF Cmdr. Tito Biel, through intermediaries, telling him of the government’s plans and asking him not to attack the government troops. He warned that if Cmdr. Tito Biel did resist, then the government would insist that Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep’s forces escort the army, and this would ignite further Nuer-Nuer fighting. Cmdr. Tito Biel was said to have replied that he would oppose any government attempt to increase its military presence in his territory (south of Bentiu) by air or any other way.
Indeed, his understanding from meetings with Riek Machar was that he must not allow the government to build up its forces in Block 5A south of Bentiu. Anonymous relief worker, Human Rights Watch interview, August 22, 1999; Anonymous relief worker, February
2000. In any event, Paulino Matiep’s forces ultimately accompanied the Bentiu army convoy.
505 The SSDF believed that the government had artillery and fifteen trucks that carried three companies at some 126 soldiers per company, or an estimated 378 army soldiers. Paulino Matiep’s forces on foot made up three “task forces” of some 400 each.
Thomas Duoth, interview, July 22, 1999.
506 SSDF officer, interview, August 3, 1999.
507 The third died of his injuries while being evacuated to Bentiu by plane that same day. Employee of security consultant to oil company, interview, September 8, 1999.
oil production monitoring agency, the Organization of Exploration and Production Authority (OEPA).508 The rebels sought out these three men for what several UDSF/SSDF officials later alleged was retaliation for torture of local Nuer civilians.509 Regardless of whether the three government agents had tortured anyone or not, the summary executions of the three men constituted a violation of international humanitarian law by the SSDF. Cmdr. Tito Biel, when asked about the three by Human Rights Watch, said they had not been killed but were prisoners of war.510 In addition, the SSDF claimed it captured twenty-three Chinese nationals in Guk and released them in Bentiu. Francis Gatlouk, deputy operations commander for Paulino Matiep, said that the SSDF rebels had captured and released oil workers, four of them Chinese, in Koch.511 508 Ibid., and others.
509 Thomas Duoth, interview, July 22, 1999. He claimed that there were two “Arab” plainclothes security men who were captured by Nuer chiefs and cattle guards from Duar. The chiefs and guards allegedly executed the captives in retaliation for their alleged killing of two civilians. He said that Cmdr. Tito Biel was advised of the capture but washed his hands of it. Many UDSF and SSDF officials denied the killings or claimed no knowledge of them. Based on the testimony of the oil company securityconsultant, the Harker Report, below, and others, it appears that the SSDF was responsible for the summary execution, not Nuer civilians.
510 Tito Biel, interview, August 19, 1999. Neither Lundin nor the government made any mention of the triple murder at the time, but a Sudanese army spokesman later said that Cmdr. Tito Biel’s forces killed three oil guards and carried out other “hostile acts” at petroleum sites in Unity State beginning on April 29, 1999. The Canadian human rights team concluded that three government soldiers guarding this Lundin rig had been abducted from the camp near the rig and killed. Talisman also said it was aware of three killed in a May 1999 attack on Lundin’s operations. “Sudanese army confirms defection of ally, says he hijacked boat,” AFP, Khartoum, May 28, 1999; Harker report, p. 50; Human Rights Watch interview, Talisman officials, February 3, 2000 (two northern guards shot dead by warlords).