“Khartoum Redeploys Construction Equipment for Oil Roads:
New Civilian Populations Put at Risk in Western Upper Nile”
Khartoum’s January 2003 offensive against civilians in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile had two axes: south from Bentiu to Leer along the new oil road, and west of Bentiu in the Tam area (as well as further west and south). Here geography becomes critical in discerning Khartoum’s ongoing ambitions for civilian destruction with its recent redeployment of construction equipment from the Leer area to Mankien. For Mankien, which lies south of Mayom and Kaikang, shares with Leer a defining geographical feature: it is as the southern end of a new oil road. Kaikang, it should be noted, is the epicenter for new exploration activities by the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) in Concession Block 4, and GNPOC is eager to move to the promising oil reserves that lie to the south. Thus the construction equipment redeployed from Leer has been moved to a point from which Khartoum clearly threatens to attack again civilians in the Tam area who have the misfortune of living over these oil reserves. Death and displacement have been the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians over the last six years in and around GNPOC Concession Blocks 1 and 2; and it has more recently been the fate for civilians in Concession Block 5a, controlled by Lundin Petroleum (Sweden) and OMV (Austria). Now, at a time of Khartoum’s choosing, a military strike into the civilian population in the Tam area will lead the way for a massive construction effort to extend southward the oil road now running from Mayom to Mankien. Progress will be measured most tellingly in the number of southern Sudanese destroyed or displaced.
Eric Reeves [February 17, 2003]
Northampton, MA 01063
There is a ghastly familiarity to Khartoum’s ambitions in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile province: destroy or displace as many civilians as possible to allow international oil companies the opportunity to proceed with extraction and exploration activities. It has been chronicled for many years by three successive UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan, as well as by numerous distinguished human rights organizations and government investigations. Most recently, the report from the US-led Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) offers a devastating indictment of Khartoum’s January 2003 offensive south and west of Bentiu.
Tragically, Khartoum has paid no significant price for their recent savage assaults on civilians; instead, the regime has merely been required to sign a new cease-fire agreement (replacing the old cease-fire agreement, the terms of which had been so completely abrogated by Khartoum’s January offensive). Perhaps the only feature of this new agreement that has any meaning is the specific stipulation that Khartoum cease work on the all-weather oil road that now reaches from Bentiu southward almost to Leer (15 miles from Adok on the Nile). A separate CPMT report on fighting at Leer, specifically requested by General Lazaro Sumbeiywo (chief IGAD negotiator for the Machakos process), has concluded that:
“Military operations and village clearing are conducted by what appears to be [Government of Sudan] and their allied militia in and around villages leading to Leer.”
“The [Government of Sudan] military has been providing security for construction by pushing their regular units forward along the new road axis. They are now approaching the town of Leer. Villages along both flanks of the new road have been cleared of the civil populace approaching Leer.”
In light of such unambiguous findings, Khartoum agreed on February 4, 2003 to stop further construction of the Bentiu-Leer-Adok road.
But all this has meant is that Khartoum has now deployed the road construction equipment from the Leer area to Mankien, 55 miles west of Bentiu. The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team is aware of this redeployment, and should draw the obvious inference about its significance. But it is not clear that the CPMT has the resources to monitor this ominous development adequately as it conducts ongoing investigations into Khartoum’s earlier atrocities. There is certainly no evidence that the US State Department has a strategy for containing a southward thrust from Mankien by Khartoum’s militarized road construction efforts.
From Mankien, the construction equipment is poised—with sufficient military escort—to extend southward the oil road that now reaches from Mayom to Mankien. Mayom is important because it is the headquarters of Paulino Matip, one of the most vicious and certainly the most powerful of the Nuer militia leaders that Khartoum has loosed upon the civilians of the oil regions (Matip also holds the rank of Major General in Khartoum’s regular army). Mayom is also only ten miles south of Kaikang, epicenter of the activities of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) in Concession Block 4. Concession Block 4 is far and away the largest GNPOC concession area, more than twice as large as the producing concession areas, Blocks 1 (Unity) and 2 (Heglig).
The companies that comprise GNPOC (China National Petroleum Corp., Petronas of Malaysia, and Talisman Energy of Canada, still trying to complete the sale of its 25% stake to India’s Oil and Natural Gas Company) are eager to extend their activities further south in Block 4. Seismic and other data have consistently indicated that the most promising oil reserves lie to the south in the various concession blocks. But heretofore insecurity has made it impossible to exploit these reserves. And the lack of all-weather roads has meant that new exploration activities have largely come to a halt during the rainy season.
This is the point of Khartoum’s redeploying road construction equipment from the Leer area to the Mankien. There can be little doubt that sooner or later, and very likely sooner, Khartoum will attempt to extend southward the road now reaching from Mayom to Mankien; and the obvious areas into which it might be extended lie around Tam, where Khartoum’s military forces were so destructively engaged in attacks on civilians during the January 2003 offensive. Here it is worth noting some of the findings of the CPMT in its February 6, 2003 report on fighting in this area:
“CPMT verification investigations found:
“ In the Mayom-Mankien-Lara-Tam-Leel area: Military attacks against villages by [Government of Sudan]-allied militia, supported directly by [Government of Sudan] military forces.
“ Non-combatants have been abducted, including men/boys (for military service), while women and children have been taken to [Government of Sudan] controlled towns (probably Mankien, Mayom, and Bentiu) where the children are held captive and women forced to provide manual labor and sexual services (based on multiple interviews with escaped abductees, both male and female).
“ [Government of Sudan] direct support to attacks included artillery, and helicopter gunships in Lingara and villages north of Tam.”
There can be no doubt that the strategic ambitions revealed in Khartoum’s January military offensive in the oil regions will be extended in the Mankien area and southward in the weeks or months to come unless there is a concerted and resolute effort by the international community. And yet it is painfully obvious that the international community has no real intention of working either in concert or with real resolve. The deliberate destruction of the Nuer people in the oil regions will thus continue, at a time of Khartoum’s choosing. With so much at stake in the form of oil revenues, and having paid so small a price for their January offensive, Khartoum’s National Islamic Front leaders confront far too little to deter them from a path of resumed war. Any “restraint” exhibited now is a matter of expediency, not a commitment to peace.
This is clear for all who will only choose to look. But slowly, tragically, the people of southern Sudan are regaining their invisibility. That the agony of these people is so great, that their destruction amounts to genocide, is evidently not enough. This eclipse of moral sense now casts a shadow of unfathomable darkness.