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699 Because the resignation took place unconventionally, over high frequency radio, the Khartoum government was slow to accept it.
Government officials radioed back to Riek Machar in Koch, and he agreed to meet a Khartoum delegation in Nairobi for further discussions about his resignation. John Luk Jok, “The Political and Military Dynamics in Western Upper Nile,” South Sudan Post (Nairobi), May 2000, p. 12.
700 Brig. Gen. Gatluak Deng was removed from his positions in late 2002 by President El Bashir, and former state governor Riek Gai was appointed head of the SSCC while Maj. Gen. Paulino Matiep was named commander-in-chief of the SSDF.
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The government still had the loyalty of the commanders of Nuer anti-Riek Machar militias it directly funded: Paulino Matiep, Gordon Kong Chuol, Gabriel Tanginya, Simon Gatwich, and others. But the Riek Machar resignation, coming as it did after the mutinies of Philip Bapiny (1998) and Peter Gatdet (1999), was something for the government to worry about. Riek Machar remained the most prominent Nuer leader, nationally and internationally.
In late March 2000, Riek Machar, with several of his top military commanders, flew by private charter to Kenya, where they remained for several months.701 These commanders included Peter Bol Kong, James Yiech, and Tito Biel. Peter Paar Jiek then became Western Upper Nile zonal commander. They all met with U.S. embassy officials in Nairobi. The purpose of the meeting seems to have been to demonstrate Riek Machar’s following and viability. The U.S. embassy officials, however, did not react.
Government Offensives in Support of Road Building for the the Oilfields, 2000 In late February 2000, Lundin announced that the lack of a road had delayed its drilling operation at Ryer/Thar Jath.702 The whole stretch of road from Bentiu south into Block 5A was passable in the dry season.703 During the rainy season, however, April to October, and until the soil dried up in December, flooding and rains made it impossible for vehicles to pass, especially vehicles with the heavy equipment needed for oil exploration and production.704 701 The SPDF was off to a poor financial start. It was difficult to raise the money for a chartered plane (often U.S. $ 6,000) to pick up this group. See Riek Machar, interview, August 8, 2000.
702 Lundin Oil press release, “Testing of Thar Jath Well Onshore Sudan Delayed,” Geneva/Stockholm, February 22, 2000.
703 Paul Wilson, interview, May 16, 2001.
704 Thomas Duoth, interview, July 22, 1999.
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Lundin announced a further delay in activity on Block 5A in late March 2000, this time “due to continued logistical difficulties and safety considerations.”705 In neither case did Lundin disclose that the war going on in Block 5A—in which several factions had recently switched sides and were against the government—posed the biggest practical barrier to resuming operations.
The Sudanese government was trying to remedy these problems: its initial 2000 dry season military objective appeared to be to capture land for, protect the construction of, and secure two all-weather roads for oil operations. The roads were built by the companies’ consortia, which often used Chinese subcontractors with Chinese labor. 706 It was vital for Lundin to extend the road from Bentiu south into Block 5A. It first built a bridge over the Bahr El Ghazal (Nam) River between Yoinyang and Bentiu in early 2000,707 then a road—with a spur to the Ryer/Thar Jath exploratory well—from Bentiu almost reaching Ler and Adok. On this road it would be possible to drive from Khartoum straight to the Ryer/Thar Jath well site. Provisioning would be much easier. The government also sought to use the road to rotate and reinforce its troops in the Ler and Adok garrisons, where some troops tarried for a year under siege and food had to be flown in.
The oil road passes by Kuey, or rather what had been the village of Kuey. A U.N. official overflying the area saw the road that cut through what was a U.N. relief airstrip for Kuey. Her interviews with chiefs from the area who had taken refuge in Nimne, protected by several rivers from the oil road, confirmed that it cut through the village and relief strip for Kuey.708 705 Lundin Oil press release, “Further delay in Sudan, January Production Update,” Geneva/Stockholm, dated March 21, 2000.
706 According to rebel combatants, the road crews they saw were Chinese. Leek Nuer combatants, interviews, August 1, 3-4, 2000.
707 Different rebels gave different reasons for why they never attacked the new Bentiu bridge: one said that they did not know about it; another said they lacked ammunition. Cmdr. Peter Gatdet reportedly faulted Cmdr. Peter Paar for allowing the Bentiu bridge to be built in Peter Paar’s sector.
708 The interviews took place in Nimne during in January 2001. Diane deGuzman, former OLS Humanitarian Laws Principles officer, briefing, Washington, D.C., May 8, 2001.. She was told by a RASS relief worker from Kuey that other Kuey residents had fled three days’ walk into the swamp east of Kuey, in the direction of the Nile.
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The second area of roadwork was in the GNPOC blocks. It was necessary to build a road from Bentiu to Wangkei garrison (Block 4). This would eliminate the need to resupply Wangkei by river, where sudd and ambushes impeded delivery. More roads were also needed further west, into Block 4’s Kaikang oilfields where more wells were to be drilled by GNPOC.
And more roads were needed inside Block 1, where oil work was expanding. In January 2000, the government announced: “Oil drilling has started in a newly discovered oilfield in the Unity State”709 and construction work “has started on a 90-km road linking the field with Bentiu oilfields to the north of it.”710 A celebration reportedly was held at the site to signal the beginning of road construction, attended by the country’s energy minister, Awad al Jaz, who urged the local population to help the company’s staff.711 Fighting Along the Oil Roads, April 2000 In late March 2000, the combined SPLA/SPDF forces of Peter Gatdet and Peter Paar succeeded in forcing the government/Paulino Matiep militia troops back into the town of Bentiu, reversing some successes of the government’s 1999 campaign. This led to government/Paulino Matiep alleged killings (again) of suspected SPLM/A/SPDF supporters in Bentiu in retaliation. Many Bentiu civilian residents then fled to Nimne, a rebel-controlled town northeast of Bentiu, to escape this persecution; some 1,430 were reported to have arrived in Nimne from Bentiu on April 4, 2000 alone. One head chief of the Leek Nuer in Bentiu told a relief official at Nimne that the revenge attacks killed at least 160 people and prevented 4,335 members of his community from leaving Bentiu.712 709 “Drilling Takes Off In New Oilfield,” PANA, Khartoum, January 26, 2000.
712 Confidential communication from relief source, May 1, 2000.
In April 2000, Khartoum undertook an offensive supported by hundreds of muraheleen (Baggara militia) on horseback. Backed by artillery, gunships, and Antonovs, they advanced from the garrisons in Wangkei and Mayom on Mankien and other locations controlled by Cmdr. Peter Gatdet. He succeeded in repulsing this offensive, but at a cost in casualties, villages, and cattle.713 On April 15, 2000, the combined rebel forces of the SPLA’s Peter Gatdet and the SPDF’s Peter Paar ambushed a military convoy from Bentiu heading to the government position in Ryer/Thar Jath with material and personnel for the oilfield, including many unarmed Chinese.714 The first three cars in the convoy were civilian cars, driven by Chinese. After they passed by, according to one combatant present, the rebels attacked the military vehicles in the convoy, which included tanks. Many jumped out of the vehicles and started running. The convoy hastily turned around and went back to Bentiu. “No Chinese were wounded or killed,” said the soldier. “They were wearing white shirts, no uniforms, and they did not have guns. We never saw them shoot.” 715 Another, larger convoy returned the next day. “Present were some Paulino Matiep troops, Arabs, mujahedeen—no muraheleen [Baggara],” according to the same soldier. The fighting continued for three days. On the last two days, the government forces faced only Cmdr. Peter Paar’s SPDF forces, after Cmdr. Peter Gatdet recalled his troops to fight government troops in Rang (north of Bentiu). The Paar forces triumphed long enough for their soldiers to go into a vacated Ryer/Thar Jath location, see the trench that had been dug for what they thought was part of a pipeline, and destroy a twelve-inchdiameter pipe found at the site.716 713 John Luk Jok, “The Political and Military Dynamics in Western Upper Nile,” South Sudan Post (Nairobi), May 2000, p. 13.
714 SPLA Cmdr. Peter Gatdet provided ammunition (which he obtained from the SPLA) to Cmdr. Peter Paar of the SPDF (Riek Machar’s forces) during April 2000, according to Michael Wal Duany, head of a rival group. Michael Wal Duany, Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, August 7, 2000.
715 Leek Nuer former combatant, Human Rights Watch interview, Kenya, August 3, 2000.
Other ambushes on government of Sudan convoys between Ryer/Thar Jath and Bentiu during AprilMay 2000 had less success. As one participant said:
We did not capture any government soldiers or weapons. We attacked the convoy with thirty-nine vehicles—some of these carried rations and all carried soldiers. It turned and went back to Bentiu and reorganized. The second convoy had eighty vehicles, all military. We did not attack because we did not have sufficient troops. All the military on the convoy was government of Sudan.717
Reportedly, the rebel forces also attacked a bulldozer used for road work.718
According to the rebels, there was also road construction to Rang in Block 1, located north of Bentiu en route to Riik, an army garrison. As was often the case, among the rebels attacking Rang was a young Nuer man whose family had been displaced from nearby Riik years ago. The Sudanese military protected the road construction.719 One attack on Rang occurred on April 21, 2000. The rebels arrived silently at night and slept nearby.
Early the next morning they crossed the swamp and went to a shallow river (water to the knees only) for
the attack. As one of them described it:
The soldiers were going in front, clearing the way. The Chinese were building the road.
We saw no southerners building the road.... Paulino Matiep used Chinese as recruits, 717 Dok Nuer former combatant, interview, July 31, 2000.
719 “Riik is two days north from Nhialdiu, and between Bentiu and Pariang. People living there before were Leek but their place was destroyed and the Arabs live there now. The Leek left long ago, maybe before I was born. Some Pariang Dinka live there now. My parents now live in Nhialdiu. They and my big brother were born in Riik.” Leek Nuer former combatant, Human Rights Watch interview, Kenya, August 1, 2000.
The rebels opened fire on the government military convoy that morning, and claimed, “We won the battle at Rang.”721 According to a press report citing a Nuer survivor, during this period government soldiers attacked and burned a Rik village north of Bentiu (Block 1), shooting all males older than fifteen or sixteen. The women and children, by this account, fled towards Bentiu; some drowned while being chased across the Bahr El Ghazal (Nam) River, while others were captured and taken in cars in the direction of Bentiu.
This witness said he escaped to the village of Guk, a day’s walk south, and the army followed close behind. He hid and saw the soldiers kill two families, both known to him by name. In both cases, the men were killed with nails hammered into their temples and other body parts after an interrogation. The women were shot and children had their throats cut.722 An experienced journalist interviewed a Nuer from a village near the former market town of Rupnyagai—not near any of the ambush locations referred to above—who said that his sister and brother-in-law had been killed in an attack on Rupnyagai (Roub Nyagai) and several other villages near the Unity oilfield in 2000. His mother and brother were surrounded and killed when they tried to flee.
He said: “All the soldiers wore the same uniforms. I saw no black person among them, only red [a word used by southerners to describe lighter-skinned northerners].”723 720 Ibid.
722 Julie Flint, “Britain Backs Ugly War for Oil,” Observer (London), April 16, 2000. The journalist, who has covered Sudan for years, told Human Rights Watch that she found these witnesses credible. Julie Flint, Human Rights Watch interview, Kampala, Uganda, July 12, 2000.
723 “Britain Backs Ugly War for Oil,” April 16, 2000.
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These Nuer made their way as far south as Pagarou, in the Dinka area of Rumbek County, Bahr El Ghazal. An SPLM/A relief official there said the number of displaced reaching his county had doubled from March to April 2000. They arrived in terrible condition, sometimes one to two hundred a day, many suffering from malaria and diarrhea, and all starved.724 In late June 2000, Peter Gatdet’s forces set up an ambush for military lorries (trucks) as they passed through Rang en route to building the Bentiu-Wangkei road.725 Military vehicles on this road had been
ambushed before. One of the rebel soldiers described it:
When the shooting started, some soldiers ran, some stayed in the lorries. The soldiers in the lorries had big guns. [With our shooting] we stopped [the ones] on foot. They got back in the lorries, shooting. They were new army recruits combined with Paulino Matiep forces. We captured and burned two lorries. One lorry had a twelve mm gun, which we burned. The soldiers in the lorries were already dead.726 724 Ibid.