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This attack was largely confirmed by a foreign journalist. On June 8, 2001, Swedish journalist Peter Strandberg watched from the sidelines as Cmdr. Peter Gatdet, whom the SPLM/A press release said had directed the attack, and his 800-man force ambushed a government convoy at night on the road between Wangkei and Mayom in Block 4. The journalist reported that Peter Gatdet’s forces killed 360 government soldiers and ten oil workers while sustaining the loss of only ten SPLA soldiers. The rebels also destroyed thirty vehicles and looted the dead of all their possessions, returning to Buoth to celebrate their victory. Buoth was at the time a town overpopulated by thousands of civilians displaced from their home villages in the region by government soldiers.797 An SPLM/A press release said that on July 1, 2001, SPLA forces ambushed and destroyed an oil convoy only thirty kilometers out of Bentiu town. The SPLM/A said that three days later, on July 4, it attacked another government convoy en route to Wangkei garrison from Bentiu. After three days of fighting, this convoy, consisting of an infantry brigade and local militia groups, was reportedly “completely routed” and forty-eight soldiers were killed, thirty-five wounded, and many more taken prisoner. The convoy was said to have been going to Wangkei with a military engineering company to build a railway line to northern Sudan. Various military materiel was captured.
When the SPLA attacks stepped up in mid-2001, President Bashir rallied workers to send their militias to the oil front, vowing “never to relinquish the oilfields,” and that the government would “continue going along the path of jihad and martyrdom.”799 797 Peter Strandberg, “Bloody War Over Sudan’s Oilfields,” Goteborgs-Posten (Goteborg, Sweden), Chot Jok, Western Upper Nile/Unity State, June 26, 2001.
798 SPLM/A press release, “SPLA Destroys Another Huge Enemy Convoy in Western Upper Nile (WUN),” Nairobi, July 6, 2001. The press release said that the ambush occurred on July 1 and the convoy was destroyed after three days of fighting on July 4. Yusuf Khazin, “Southern Sudan rebel commander comments on oilfield attacks,,” July 31, 2001.
799 “Beshir vows to hold onto oilfields amid mobilization against rebels,” AFP, Khartoum, June 7, 2001.
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The most significant attacks, in publicity terms, occurred on August 4-5, 2001. An SPLA unit attacked the GNPOC consortium field headquarters at Heglig, damaging an oil storage tank and a helicopter on the ground800 that probably belonged to an oil company.801 At the same time, the Gatdet/SPLA forces attacked the government garrison at Wangkei. Both attacks were initially denied by the government, but Talisman admitted that Heglig had been targeted, with minimal damage. It said it halted pumping of oil for a few hours as a routine security precaution.802 Heglig, however, is far north of Peter Gatdet’s usual territory.
Following the oral standstill agreement between the the two “Peters,” SPLA Cmdr. Gatdet and SPDF Cmdr. Paar in August 2001, the SPLA stepped up its attacks on the oilfields. It claimed to have killed 429 Sudanese soldiers during October 12-19, 2001 attacks on Pariang and Bentiu towns in Upper Nile (Block 1) and Fom al-Zaraf in Bahr El Ghazal (Block 5A). The SPLM/A said it temporarily occupied the armed forces’ headquarters in Bentiu before withdrawing. Apparently the SPLA did make an incursion into Bentiu, because the governor claimed that the SPLA had killed seven people in this attack on the capital. The SPLM/A also stated that a 105-soldier pro-government militia switched sides during the fighting in Fom al-Zaraf, Bahr El Ghazal, providing the SPLA with 191 Kalashnikovs and ammunition.803 Meanwhile, also in October 2001, the Sudanese government launched another offensive in the GNPOC oil concession, in the southeast part of Ruweng (Panaru/Pariang) County (Blocks 1 and 5A). It attacked the villages between Jukabar and Bal from the air and followed up with ground troops. Helicopters flew low enough that the wind from their blades parted the bush and enabled their gunners to see and fire at civilians hiding there, according to witnesses. Children as well as adults were killed in these attacks.
Others were killed by “technicals” riding into their villages. The government attackers encountered no 800 SPLM/A press release, “SPLA Destroys Heglig Oil Rig and Helicopter,” Nairobi, August 9, 2001.
801 “Report of an Investigation into Oil Development,” p. 31.
802 Ibid., p. 28, quoting a well-placed nongovernmental source.
803 “SPLA says it killed 429 Sudanese soldiers in attacks on oilfields,” AFP, Cairo, October 21, 2001.
armed resistance but caused the population to flee to two areas of swampland in northeast and southeast Ruweng County, according to investigators for the advocacy NGO European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS). An estimated 80,000 persons were so displaced.804 One month later, in November 2001, GNPOC moved a drilling rig into Pakier, just to the west of the depopulated area, suggesting that the military attacks were intended to clear the way for the expansion of oil production in that sector. Witnesses still in the area saw the light on the top of the GNPOC rig at night. In March 2002, Chinese workers started building an extension of the Heglig road to Manawal in the direction of Bal and Jukabar, the new government garrison. Civilians who attempted to return to the Pakier area found anti-personnel landmines around the watering points and pathways to areas where women collected wild food, leading to reports of deaths of animals and some people, and deterring the residents from returning.805 Use of GNPOC Airstrips In April 2001, a Canadian and British nongovernmental investigation team visited the rebel-held areas of
the GNPOC concession, having failed to secure a visa to visit the government side. The team found:
an intensification of armed attacks on civilians in Sudan’s contested oil region in Western Upper Nile during the past year [2000-2001]. These attacks have been carried out by government forces and pro-government militias and also by rebel forces. A significant new development is a higher number of direct attacks on civilians by the armed forces of the Government of Sudan. In particular, the team found that government forces launched increasing numbers of helicopter gunship attacks on civilian settlements in or near the operational area of the [GNPOC] oil consortium that includes Canada’s Talisman Energy. Some of these helicopters operate from facilities built, 804 “Depopulating Sudan’s Oil Regions, January to March 2002,” by Diane deGuzman, edited by Egbert G.Ch. Wesselink, for the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), Amsterdam, May 14, 2002, pp. 3, 6-8.
805 Ibid., pp. 3, 6-8, 12.
Many civilians in the oil areas interviewed by press and human rights investigators have reported that they were driven from their homes by helicopter gunships.807 Many such helicopters were based at oil company airstrips. After visiting the Talisman project in early 2001, the Canadian consular official based in Khartoum reported that two Hind helicopter gunships had been stationed at Unity Field (GNPOC) for about a month, flying sorties almost every day, taking on large amounts of ammunition and unloading none. A third Hind had been put out of action by excessive dust in its air intake. (These three helicopters constituted perhaps one-half of the government’s fleet of combat helicopters.)808 This was corroborated by two young southern men who defected from the government army base at Heglig in April 2001. They reported that two helicopter gunships were based at Heglig, the location of the GNPOC long air strip and field headquarters as well as the site of the large Heglig army base.809 806 Georgette Gagnon and John Ryle, “Report of an Investigation into Oil Development, Conflict, and Displacement,” Toronto and London, May 15, 2001 (Preliminary Report, May 15, 2001). This was a summary of the investigation. The full report was issued on October 15, 2001. Georgette Gagnon is an international lawyer who was a member of the Harker team and later a U.N. supervising attorney for 140 U.N. human rights officers in Bosnia. John Ryle is Anthropology and Africa Editor of the Times Literary Supplement (London) and Chair of the Kenya and U.K.-based Rift Valley Institute. He was a U.K. government nominee to the U.S. State Department-sponsored International Eminent Persons Group reporting on Slavery and Abduction in Sudan in 2002.
807 See, e.g., Andrew Harding, “Sudan rebels threaten oil workers,” BBC News Online, April 8, 2001 (quoting John Wijial, who “walked for five days through the bush after his home was attacked by a helicopter gunship. He said two of his children had been killed.”).
808 Nicholas Coughlan, Canadian consular officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Khartoum, email dated March 1, 2001, quoted in “Report of an Investigation into Oil Development,” p. 31.
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The combat range of a Hind helicopter gunship, when fully loaded with weapons, is about 160 kilometers, according to Jane’s.810 This range is ideal for helicopters based in Heglig or Unity projects in the GNPOC concession. Heglig to Mayom or Unity airstrip is roughly one hundred kilometers. On the Block 5A Lundin side, Unity to Wicok is seventy kilometers, Unity to Ryer/Thar Jath is sixty kilometers, and Unity to Ler is 110 kilometers, as the crow flies. As Talisman admitted, each oil facility is guarded by the military.811 Block 5A, Early 2001 In early 2001, the forces of SPDF Cmdr. Peter Paar were guarding the oil road in Block 5A. The Sudanese government-appointed governor of Upper Nile, John Dor, confirmed this in a statement to the Lundin board of directors in Stockholm in May 2001. 812 Peter Paar’s SPDF forces received arms and ammunition from the government of Sudan via the Paulino Matiep forces.
The Sudanese government, however, still preferred to protect the oil development projects with nonsouthern troops, that is, government troops commanded predominantly by northern officers.813 The 810 Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, 1993-94 edition (Surrey, U.K.: Jane’s Information Group, 1993), pp. 294-95.
811 Charlie Gills, “Talisman airstrip used by military, CEO discloses,” National Post (Toronto), January 14, 2000; Talisman Energy, Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2000, Sudan Operations,” April 2001, p. 14.
812 “Statement by John Dor, Governor of Unity State, Sudan,” May 2001, from Reg Manhas, Senior Advisor, Corporate Responsibility, Talisman Energy,, email attachment to Human Rights Watch, May 23, 2001. John Dor Majok was appointed governor of Wihda (Western Upper Nile/Unity) State by order of President Omar el Bashir in February 2001. “Sudan: President Bashir appoints state governors,” Sudan TV, Omdurman, in Arabic, February 23, 2001, as translated in BBC Monitoring Middle East, February 28, 2001.
813 It is estimated that the majority of the government troops are poverty-stricken and/or conscripted southerners and westerners.
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government nevertheless continued to rely on the protecion of the outer ring of oil development by government-friendly southern militia. One Nuer chief sent his people to investigate the Ryer area and they reported back to him that there were Chinese workers, who used vehicles that operated in the water and on dry ground. The Chinese workers were guarded by northern army soldiers.814 This army presence, reinforcement, and provisioning were greatly facilitated by the oil road, on which the government army could use military trucks year-round at a faction of the cost of helicopter or other air resupply.
Gov. John Dor also told the Lundin board of directors that there was no civilian population displacement from Lundin’s area of operations815—although the latter allegation was blatantly wrong.
This was borne out by continuing human rights and other research done by nongovernmental human rights investigators in the area and OLS personnel. For example, the oil consortium and government built the Block 5A oil road through the middle of a village known as Kuac. Chief Peter Ring Pathai, the head chief of Kuac, reported to an OLS interviewer that the village of Thar near Kuac had been bombed ten times as of February 2001 in a government effort to displace the population.816 Many activists in sympathy with the SPLM/A made spot visits to Western Upper Nile/Unity State, but without finding many civilians. Rev. Gary Kusunoki, a Californian missionary, visited Nhialdiu in Block 5A in March 2001, in the company of a Newsweek journalist.817 Both the reverend and the journalist reported that villagers told them that Nhialdiu was burned out in fighting on March 5, 2001. In a 814 Email, OLS worker to Human Rights Watch, February 9, 2001 (anonymity requested).
815 Statement by John Dor, May 2001.
816 Email, OLS worker to Human Rights Watch,, February 9, 2001. The chief was interviewed in February 2001 in Nimne, to which he and his followers had fled.
817 Reverend Gary Kusunoki came from the California organization Safe Harbor International Relief, the missionary arm of Calvary Chapel—described by the Newsweek reporter accompanying him as a fundamentalist church from Orange County, California. The reverand oversaw the delivery of twenty tons of goods to the Nhialdiu area over three days by plane from Lokichokkio, 500 miles to the south. The goods included supplies of medicine, corn, soap, Bibles in Nuer, and 440 pounds of salt, a valuable commodity. Tom Masland, “Soldiers of Christ,” Newsweek (New York), April 9, 2001.
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statement to the U.S. Congress, Rev. Kusunoki said that the attack was conducted by the SPDF, “a government backed militia.”818 The reporter observed that “Nothing was left of the town of Nhialdiu,”819 and observed from the low-flying plane that dozens of other villages also lay in ashes, deserted.820 The missionary estimated that more than 25,000 people had been displaced as a result of the attack, and had moved further south.821 The basis for that estimate, however, was not provided.