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«Human Rights Watch Brussels London New York Washington, D.C. Copyright © 2003 by Human Rights Watch. All rights reserved. Printed in the United ...»

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Government Strategy of Divide and Displace In order to control the production of oil, the unelected government of Jafa’ar Nimeiri (1969-85) adopted a two-pronged strategy, division and displacement of the southern population. It has taken almost two decades and various governments to develop and refine this strategy, but the division and displacement strategy has accomplished what direct military action from the central government alone could never achieve: clear control of certain oil areas in southern Sudan.

The political tactic was to conceal the hand of the government by encouraging government proxies— land-hungry neighbors—to attack the agro-pastoralists of the oilfields. With the population thinned out, the government could erect a “cordon sanitaire” around the producing areas in Blocks 1, 2, 4 and 5A for foreign oil companies to exploit in peace and security—while those who had lived for generations on the land were robbed of their peace, security, homes, animals, crops, families, and often their lives.

In the 1980s, the government of dictator Nimeiri (1969-85) and then the elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi of the Umma Party (1986-89) armed militias of the Baggara, Arabic-speaking 16 Lundin Petroleum AB press release, “Lundin Report for Nine Months ended September 30,2002;” C. Ashley Heppenstall, president and CEO of Lundin, letter to shareholders, November 15, 2002, http://www.lundin-petroleum.com/Documents/pr_corp_15e.pdf (accessed November 18, 2002).

17 Lundin Petroleum AB press release, “Update on activities in Block 5A, Sudan,”March 27, 2003.

18 Lundin Petroleum, “Lundin Petroleum completes sale of Block 5A Sudan,” June 23, 2003.


cattle-owning nomads, to drive southerners from their own land, in particular the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups to the south and east of the Baggara, steadily clearing out Blocks 1, 2, and 4 for oil development.

The north-south border drawn by the British cuts through Blocks 2 and 4. (See Map B) The Baggara horse-backed militias, known as muraheleen, with state and central government-supplied automatic weapons, were allowed full impunity in Western Upper Nile/Unity State to loot cattle and burn, and to kill, injure, and capture Nuer and Dinka, whose men resisted on foot, mostly with spears.19 The government granted impunity to its proxies for what they stole and whom they murdered.

Government soldiers in trucks later came through, with equal brutality and greater thoroughness, to erect garrisons and stay, occupying the land and preventing most of those displaced from returning.

Inside Block 4, west of Bentiu, and probably not far from what later became an oilfield, there were schools attended by hundreds of Leek Nuer children in 1983, according to a man who then served as school administrator. These Nuer were pushed by the Baggara in the mid-1980s to cross the Bahr El

Ghazal (Nam) River for safety. The school administrator said:

The Baggara looted the Nuer cattle, and sold it to traders. They killed people, abducted girls and boys to be slaves, and sold some to Libya. If a person were lucky, his children would be in Khartoum. Most of those abducted disappeared. This started... when the government of Sudan gave guns to the Baggara.20 The schools the administrator was managing closed from 1983 until 1991 because the Baggara raiders destroyed them. Whole communities fled; many families were separated.

19 This style of displacement—here for the purpose of gaining control of land and grazing areas—had already been practiced by the Baggara in the Dinka Abyei area of southern Kordofan, with disastrous results for the people of Abyei. David Keen, The Benefits of Famine: A Political Economy of Famine and Relief in Southwestern Sudan, 1983-1989 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994). The story of Abyei is beyond the scope of this report.

20 Relief Association of Southern Sudan (RASS) officer and former school administrator, Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, Kenya, August 1-2, 2000.

51Human Rights Watch

In 1983, mutinies by southerners within the Sudanese army led to the creation of the SPLM/A, and then the full-scale resumption of the civil war. By 1986, the SPLM/A dominated most of Western Upper Nile—except for the government garrison towns, some oilfields north of Bentiu town, and the Bul Nuer area, which was loyal to the commander of a pro-government militia, Paulino Matiep, who had never joined the SPLM/A and to whom the government referred as a “friend” of the army.21 In the face of SPLM/A successes, the Sudanese government further developed its preferred strategy of divide and rule. In addition to deploying the army and Baggara militia to protect the oilfields, the Sudanese government also implemented a strategy of dividing southerners and buying off those occupying strategic territory. It cultivated Cmdr. Paulino Matiep as its primary surrogate force to keep the SPLM/A presence—and that of other hostile forces—in the oilfields at a minimum. Paulino Matiep’s role was to become ever more important in the years that followed.

The government took advantage of a 1991 split in the SPLM/A—which broke into two factions mainly along Dinka/Nuer ethnic lines—to begin covertly aiding the mostly-Nuer breakaway faction led by prominent Nuer leader Dr. Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon. This force changed names as it changed alliances, and was last known as the Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SPDF). (In January 2002, the SPDF and the SPLM/A signed a unity agreement, reuniting many of the forces that split in 1991.22) The Nuer were the key ethnic group as far as oil development was concerned. Nuer territory extended to most of the Muglad and Melut basins, with Dinka being the second largest ethnic group in the southern oilfield regions.

21 Most southerners’ names include the “proper” name first, the father’s name (second), and the grandfather’s name (last). To refer to Paulino Matiep as “Matiep” is to refer to that commander’s father. Therefore the first and second names are used for southerners in this report, although in conversation southerners routinely refer only to the first name, i.e., “Paulino,” with some exceptions such as using the father’s name when the proper name is widely used, or a title, i.e., John Garang de Mabior may be referred to as “Garang”—or as “Dr. John.” 22 See http://www.usinternet.com/users/helpssudan/.


In 1996, Riek Machar and one other commander signed a Political Charter with the government. In 1997, the Khartoum Peace Agreement was signed between the government, the Machar faction, and other political and armed groups at odds with the SPLM/A. The Khartoum Peace Agreement provided for a referendum on self-determination, a widely-held southern aspiration. But the referendum was to be held four years after conditions were right, and has not been held to date. Instead, the Nuer became victims of extensive displacement at the hands of their government “allies.” The Khartoum Peace Agreement of 1997 was what the government needed to show foreign oil investors. It supposedly put an end to the war that had driven Chevron away; it provided African “exrebel leaders” to meet with and to assure oil investors that Chevron’s bad experience would not be repeated; and it supplied ex-rebel forces with arms and ammunition to brush away the rebel “remnants” who might venture too close to the oilfields.

But the northern-based government fundamentally mistrusted southerners. It would neither rely on southerners as firm allies nor allow them to grow too powerful. It directly provisioned various smaller Nuer commanders, thus winning them away from Riek Machar’s forces. In addition, the government issued renewed calls to students and others in the north to join militias known as “Popular Defence Forces” (PDF), including one known as the “Protectors of the Oil Brigade,” that it then deployed to the oil areas of the south.

When the pro-government Nuer militia of Paulino Matiep began attacks in late 1997 into the territory of Riek Machar, supposedly a government ally, the government publicly dismissed the fighting as “tribal clashes.” Since all these forces were southern, the government claimed it was remote from “interfactional” fighting between southerners and could not control it. But the government did not lift a finger to stop it. The government itself promoted the myth of the “ungovernable south” sure to plunge into anarchy that would end in a “Rwanda” scenario, unless there was steady oversight from Khartoum.23 By selectively arming ethnic factions—providing arms and ammunition to Nuer pro-government militias to 23 Ghazi Salah Eldin Atabani, State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Watch interview, Khartoum, May 4, 1995.

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fight against another Nuer factions and the SPLM/A—the government’s actions were actually making that Rwanda scenario more, not less, likely. The strategy of fielding southern forces as its proxies was a government attempt to evade accountability for its actions. The creation and nurturing of southern proxies also helped to prevent unification of the southern political and military forces opposing the government.

The government’s ethnic divide and displace strategy was especially devastating for the Nuer: it encouraged and armed them to fight each other in scorched earth campaigns—at home. They were skilled in familiar terrain, as the government troops were not, at lightning raids conducted regardless of the harsh geography and weather, including during the wet season when government troops, vehiclebound, could not engage.

With heightened development interest in Block 5A, as Talisman was completing the pipeline to the Red Sea in 1999, the strategy of arming southern proxies to fight the war became even more important to the government. The Block 5A oilfields did not border the Baggara or the north-south divide; they were deep inside the south where rivers traditionally barred the advance of the Baggara militias on horseback.

The government’s proxy for clearing those Nuer-populated oilfields therefore would have to be Nuer.

But Riek Machar’s forces, instead of cooperating with the government, challenged the government’s right to control the Block 5A oilfields. First, Riek Machar tried negotiations. In February 1999, Sudan’s minister of defense met him, and insisted that Sudanese army forces must guard the oilfields, including Lundin in Block 5A. Riek Machar disagreed, insisting that his forces had guarded Lundin since 1997 and should continue.

In April 1999 Lundin drilled an exploratory well at Thar Jath (known to locals as Ryer) in Jagei Nuer territory of Western Upper Nile/Unity State in Block 5A. Representatives of the Khartoum government held a meeting in Bentiu (Block 1 and capital of Western Upper Nile/Unity State) with Riek Machar’s United Democratic Salvation Front/South Sudan Defence Force (UDSF/SSDF) in late April 1999. At this meeting, Sudanese ministry of defense representatives again 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, however. Elijah Hon, an SSDF commander and later its chief of staff, described the

discussion in an interview in July 1999:

We said the oil workers can go there [Block 5A], 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.

Within days, a campaign of forced displacement from the Block 5A oilfields had started up again, in which the government army, government-backed Paulino Matiep’s Nuer militia, and northern militia all participated. It ranged through Block 5A, chasing the Machar forces—which had run out of ammunition—and Nuer civilians out of the area to Dinka land in the west or to other Nuer areas to the south and east. Government forces occupied the Block 5A drilling location, Thar Jath (Ryer).

In 1999, the Sudanese army also began operations to displace civilians remaining in and around an oilfield area north of Bentiu. Beginning May 9, 1999, the army launched an offensive against Dinka villages in Ruweng County, in eastern Blocks 1 and 5A. The attack was an all-out effort by the Sudanese government. It first used Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships and then tanks and armored personnel carriers backed by militia and army soldiers from garrisons at Liri in the Nuba Mountains and

Pariang in Block 1. A local SPLM/A commissioner commented, “The reasons for the attack are clear:

they want to exploit the oil in this area without fear of local resistance, so they are clearing the area and removing all the people.” The Sudanese government offensives of 1999 into the oil producing areas pushed several previously opposing forces from the south back into alliance against the government.

Riek Machar’s zonal commander in Western Upper Nile/Unity State, Cmdr. Tito Biel Chol, sought and received ammunition from the SPLA, from which he and others had split in 1991. He launched two attacks to roll back government forces in Block 5A, but by August 1999 his forces were again pushed back. The government militia and forces ran over the same small towns and villages three times, repeatedly displacing civilians. As the numbers of displaced rose, the government tightened the noose by

–  –  –

refusing relief access to their places of refuge until tremendous international pressure was brought to bear.

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