Scorched-earth warfare in the oil concessions of southern Sudan has been documented in yet another first-hand report by a journalist who has undertaken the hazardous journey into the region. Warren Strobel, of The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Washington Bureau, filed his report on August 4 from Buoth, Sudan (20 miles south of Bentiu, epicenter of oil development). There is a sickeningly familiarity to his account: gaunt, displaced villagers who speak of the death and destruction they have fled. Khartoum’s deadly helicopter gunships make the same fearsome impression on these people. And their losses and bleak future also have about them a ghastly repetitiveness that makes nonsense of claims by Talisman and the Canadian government that they have no evidence of “scorched-earth” warfare related to oil development.
Eric Reeves [August 6, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
The list of human rights organizations and assessment missions chronicling massive and brutal civilian destruction to clear a cordon sanitaire for oil development in the oil regions of southern Sudan is compellingly lengthy:
 The numerous reports of the UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan (in particular, the report by Leonardo Franco in October 1999);
 The report of the Canadian Assessment Mission (commissioned by former Minister of Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy); Ottawa 2000 [the “Harker Report”];
 The report of Amnesty International, “Sudan—The Human Price of Oil”; London, May 3, 2000;
 The report of Christian Aid, “The Scorched Earth: Oil and War in Sudan,” UK, March 2001;
 “Report of an Investigation into Oil Development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan,” by Georgette Gagnon and John Ryle; preliminary report issued in Canada and UK, May 2001;
 Annual reports by Human Rights Watch, based on massive on-the-ground research; most recently, the annual report on Sudan (New York, December 2000);
 And in the offing is a definitive report by Human Rights Watch, which will run to hundreds of pages—a compendium of devastation that reflects two years of research (much of it in the region) by Human Rights Watch senior Sudan researcher.
But at the same time it must not be forgotten that the picture of human destruction related to oil development, the particulars of scorched-earth warfare in service of oil production by Talisman Energy and its partners, has been established in very considerable detail by numerous reporters for newspapers and broadcast media. A very partial list, with some brief excerpts, is appended here. These news reports, with various datelines from the oil regions of Western Upper Nile and southern Kordofan Provinces, are filed by journalists from Canada, the United States, Britain, and Sweden. All reveal the same terrible realities. There are different emphases, different angles of perception; but taken together they make it impossible to escape a terrible conclusion:
Talisman of Canada, Lundin Oil (Sweden), Petronas (Malaysia), and China National Petroleum Corp. operate in southern Sudan, and derive profits, only because the Khartoum regime is killing civilians, driving them from their land, and destroying their villages, foodstuffs, cattle, and possessions. The physical security for these multinational oil companies consistently and unrelentingly takes the form of scorched-earth warfare. Moreover, airstrips belonging to Talisman and its partners continue to be used by Khartoum’s military aircraft for attacks on civilians.
For Talisman and the Government of Canada to pretend otherwise—to suggest that the evidence of scorched-earth warfare and military complicity isn’t compelling enough—is outright prevarication. It is more than disingenuousness; it is more than ignorance; it is lying unashamedly in an attempt to preserve the profitability of oil operations. It is an example of corporate greed and evil unsurpassed in the world today. Innocent children die terrible and painful deaths because of Talisman’s greed and the Government of Canada’s self-serving “agnosticism.”
These extensive news reports from the last 20 months are remarkably consistent—both among themselves and in comporting with the findings of the UN Special Rapporteurs, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, the Harker Report, the Gagnon/Ryle report, and others. They also comport all too well with independent reports on the situation in the oil regions that come from humanitarian workers and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working in southern Sudan. Many of these reports have been forwarded confidentially to this source because security considerations preclude publication with attribution. I have received scores of such reports during the time period in question.
The ongoing and immensely destructive realities of the oil regions are simply beyond dispute. There is no credible exculpating evidence. The massive loss of life and livelihood, the unspeakable brutality of the civilian displacement, and the clear relation to expanding oil development—all are indisputable. Those who choose to “dispute” these realities are motivated by considerations that have nothing to do with a desire for the truth, and have nothing to do with a concern for the people of Sudan.
Indeed, so clear and compelling is the evidence of scorched-earth warfare in southern Sudan, directly related to oil development, that failure to acknowledge this reality is tantamount to complicity in its continuation. This has long been true of Talisman Energy; it is now just as true of the Government of Canada. And if Canadian participants in the Canadian Pension Plan do not demand divestment from the $57.3 million shareholding in Talisman Energy stock, they too will be complicit—as are the other shareholders of Talisman Energy.
Warren Strobel filed his report (“Oil feeds the fire now in Sudan’s long civil war”) for the Philadelphia Inquirer in an article with the dateline “Buoth, Sudan.” Strobel conducted interviews with refugees from the village of Wattjak in Western Upper Nile, the primary oil region of southern Sudan. Unsurprisingly he found that those interviewed “provide new evidence that the Islamic government in Khartoum, which controls the northern two-thirds of the country, is pursuing a ‘scorched earth’ policy against impoverished southern Sudan.”
Strobel continues: “With Russian-built helicopters and other weapons bought with oil money, the regime is depopulating swaths of territory around the fields, which are being developed by foreign oil companies, including a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Talisman Energy Inc.”
[It is critical to remember in reading accounts of fighting in southern Sudan that only Khartoum has military aircraft—helicopter gunships and high-altitude bombers; opposition military forces have no aircraft of any sort—ER]
“But the oil could dash hopes of a U.S.-mediated end to the war. The Khartoum government, flush with petroleum money and courting foreign investors, appears to have little incentive to make concessions.”
[This conclusion echoes that of the Canadian Harker Report and many
But Mr. Stobel’s account is only the most recent; it is far from being the first. Some of the other news reports, filed from the oil regions of southern Sudan, include:
 Stephanie Nolen, the Globe and Mail, December 17, 1999:
[dateline] Tourelai, Sudan— [excerpt]
“The government has a scorched-earth policy in the South. Some of it is carried out by its troops, which burn the tukuls and fields and shoot or steal the livestock. The rest is done by raiders: irregular soldiers, of whom the government has about 15,000.”
 Julie Flint, Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), March 18, 2001
[dateline: Western Upper Nile, Sudan]
“Nhialdiu, a village that was hosting some 11,000 people displaced from the environs of a road Lundin was building to link its supply base in government-controlled Rub Kona to its wells at Thar Jath in the African south. Until oil was discovered, Sudan’s Arab rulers considered this area of little strategic importance and conceded it to the people of the Nuer tribe who have always lived there.
In 1998, as oil exploration began, government militias swept across the area from north to south, meeting opposition from local Nuer who wanted a role in oil. Tens of thousands of civilians were temporarily displaced.
The second wave of displacement came as Lundin attempted to build its road. Many of those displaced in this fighting escaped with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when government forces attacked their villages. Most were burned out of their homes between October 1999 and May 2000. All had a depressingly similar tale to tell.
Andrew Both came from Wicbar, across the river from Rub Kona. He said helicopter gunships attacked Wicbar early one morning in February 2000—the very month that Lundin announced it was temporarily suspending its testing operations ‘due to logistical considerations’.”
“‘The soldiers destroyed everything and then continued on to the oilfield,’ he said. ‘When they left I went back. I found my house burned and my child’s body in the fire. The Arabs come here because of oil. They want to chase us off our land because of oil.’
It was a story I heard a hundred times, from villages all the way down to
Rier—villages like Chotyiel, Guit, Dhor Riang, Chiengyar, Chotyien. Small villages—some of them with barely 1,000 inhabitants—but villages that made up a relatively densely populated area despite the swampy nature of the land.
I returned to Nhialdiu in November. For a long time our pilot couldn’t find it. For good reason: it was no longer there. The few people we found when we landed said government militias had attacked from three sides: from the north and from the east—from the direction of Lundin’s road. Those who couldn’t run away were put in a hut and burned alive.”
 From “Bloody War over Sudan’s Oil Fields,” by Peter Strandberg for the Gteborgs-Posten (Sweden), June 26, 2001 (translated by Cecilia Lund, research associate, Human Rights, Washington, DC) [excerpt]
[dateline Chot Jok, Western Upper Nile, Sudan] “In the shade beneath almost every tamarind tree, thousands of displaced are sitting and lying, destitute and driven from their homes by Sudan’s government army, which is in the process of systematically displacing the people who live around the oil fields. The displaced have walked for days to reach Buoth and all tell roughly the same story: supported by two Russian-made, armed Hynd helicopters that are ravaging the province, government soldiers have attacked their villages, burned their homes, killed and looted.
‘We were 7,000 people in my village Kay Kang [epicenter of Talisman Energy’s new oil exploration activities—ER]. Now there is nothing left. They stole everything from us, our livestock and everything we owned,’ says 23-year-old Simon Mabany Dobrol.
Hundreds of other villages have suffered the same fate as Chot Jak and Kay Kang. Peter Majuoy, responsible for the medical care in the guerrilla-controlled parts of Upper Nile, claims that 835,000 people now live without any medical care at all.”
 Anna Koblanck, “Lundin Oil’s road. Dagens Nyheter in Sudan: On flight from the war over oil, the road is bordered with misery and military,”
Dagens Nyheter (Stockholm), April 28, 2001 (translated by Cecilia Lund, research associate, Human Rights Watch, Washington, DC) [excerpt]
[dateline: Bentiu, Sudan] “Many villages along the road are empty. There are groups of gray grass huts where not a person can be seen. That is because the villages are not used during the dry season, when the people instead migrate out toward the Nile for water, Lundin’s head of security says. But according to the local population no village is ever entirely abandoned. The elderly in the village always stay during the dry period. ‘If you see a completely empty village then something is wrong,’ explains a young man who is from the area west of Lundin’s [oil] road.”
“One village chief reports that his village was burned down by the
government militias before Lundin’s road was built. Today the road goes straight through the area that used to be his village, he says. ‘The oil
company built the road because they want to take the oil from here. That
is not good, since they built the road while the people died,’ he says,
adding that he knows of three additional villages that were burned along
the road. One of these is Dorang.”
“A few kilometers from the drilling place lies the village Ryer, which
becomes our last stop on the journey along Lundin’s [oil] road. It is a
gathering of yellow huts on an ash-gray ground. The mood in the village
is desperate. The people have been driven here by hunger. The small
children die of disease.”
 Karl Vick, Washington Post, June 11, 2001 [page 1]
[filed from Bentiu, Western Upper Nile, Sudan] “Oil Money Is Fueling Sudan’s War; New Arms Used to Drive Southerners From Land” [excerpt]
“But the presence of oil has brought the fighting to new areas, where it drives local people out of the countryside and into government-held garrisons such as Bentiu. Once it was a town of 15,000; now its population can triple or quadruple depending on the intensity of fighting nearby. A handful of U.N. and private agencies stand by with food and medical care. The worst cases end up, like Veronica, as stick figures in the therapeutic feeding center run by Action Against Hunger, an international charity.
‘They all say the same thing,’ an aid worker said. ‘People came and destroyed their homes and they had to flee.”
 Tom Masland, Newsweek, April 9, 2001; filed from Western Upper Nile [excerpt]
“‘They take the cattle, they take the children and they kill the others,’ said Chief Edward Nyang, 62. He added: ‘Now oil has become a weapon used against us.'”
“Hungry people were arriving daily in the rebel stronghold from villages to the east, near the oil road, after trekking overland for as much as 10 days. ‘On Feb. 6 they came to our village and started shooting,’ said Zakaria Jiech, 24, who had led a group of 14 teenagers to the makeshift refugee camp. ‘The population was around 3,000—now it’s a no man’s land.'”
“Nothing was left of the town of Nialdiu, just a three-hour walk from positions within mortar range of the oil center. It was burned out in fighting on March 5, witnesses said. Dozens of other villages visible from the air also lay in ashes, deserted.”
 Julie Flint, The Guardian (UK), “Government offensive is aimed at starving out Sudan’s Nuba rebels,” June 4, 2001
[dateline: Kauda, Sudan (Nuba region)]
“‘It is obvious that the government is trying to seal the Nuba mountains by taking all the airstrips,’ said Yoanes Ajawin of Justice Africa, who was meeting human rights monitors in the mountains as the offensive began. ‘The way they are targeting villages and food is an indication they want to create a famine so that the Nuba run to government “peace villages”.’
Justice Africa’s monitors reported that dozens of Nuba civilians were abducted during the offensive, which involved attacks by more than 7,000 government troops on several fronts.”
 Andrew Harding of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) produced a documentary film on human displacement from the oil regions of southern Sudan (Wednesday, April 18, 2001; “Newsnight,” BBC 2).
Harding (along with a BBC film crew) reported from Wunrok and its environs in the oil regions of southern Sudan, and gave an explicit account of oil-related human displacement. Harding had previously filed a report from Sudan for BBC News World Service (April 8, 2001) that included the following excerpt (amplified in his documentary). [The Wunrok area reaches inside Talisman Energy’s new oil concession exploration site (Block 4 of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company)]
“In the flat, parched plains of southern Sudan, the talk is of famine and oil. Last year’s drought means food stocks are now dangerously low—and there are new worries here too. Oil has been discovered in the region, enough oil to re-energise a tired civil war that has dragged on for almost two decades.
Government troops have already secured some of the oilfields, driving thousands of civilians out in the process. The government is said to earn $1m a day from oil
John Wijial 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. ‘They want our oil,’ he said, ‘but it’s under our land.'”
Perhaps the most compelling reportage on the realities of the oil regions was filed in three reports by Charlie Gillis of the National Post. More extensive excerpts below.
 Charlie Gillis, National Post (Canada) “How Sudan clears way for Canada’s oil drillers” [three-part series, November 26 & 27, and December 1, 1999) [excerpts]
“Mother of nine among victims of brutal campaign”
TORO, Sudan Asha Angulo was the kind of woman who might have helped her country in its hour of need. As the head of the women’s union in her home village of Fama, she dedicated much of her last three years to finding homes for children orphaned by Sudan’s relentless civil war.
Today, Ms. Angulo’s nine children are orphans themselves, after government
soldiers gunned down the 35-year-old woman as she walked a trail from Burum County to her home two hours away, carrying a sack of sorghum meal for her family on her head.
“She was a very good, very helpful lady, well-respected in our community,” recalls her brother, Markos Kuku, staring over the plain where his sister lost her life last August. “I still remember the happiness she brought to our family. There was no need for this.”
Ms. Angulo was one of three unarmed civilians ambushed that day in an act residents in this area say is typical of the Khartoum government’s ongoing assault on Christians in southern Sudan.
For the past three years, the farmers in this region have faced repeated raids by government soldiers on horseback, in helicopter gunships and on foot. They have seen homemade bombs dropped on the airstrips where relief planes deliver badly needed food and medical supplies, a strategy that has added to the growing deprivation in the hills where refugees from the government’s campaign have fled.
[Talisman Energy’s Jim] Buckee dismissed a recent UN report about atrocities as ‘hearsay,’ but here such claims are horribly plausible. The UN and other organizations also say Christians have been forced into slavery by the Muslim-led government.
The situation in Biem is appalling. Even veteran aid workers are shaken by the thinness and desperation of those who greeted them as they stepped off the plane in this village at the eastern end of the oil patch.
“2,000 ragged, starving and disease-stricken individuals who crowded into a makeshift airstrip in Biem, a desolate village where refugees from the oilfields have been congregating with the slim hope that the international community will come to their rescue.
In interviews with the National Post on Thursday, migrant after migrant recalled arriving at this collection of shanties and huts after fleeing their villages to the north and west, which they said were being burned out by government troops to make way for the oil development. The attacks continued through the region’s dry season, they said, starting with the forced evacuation of Athonj and Gumriak, two villages within 37 kilometres of Talisman’s drilling rigs.
“Government officials came and told us, ‘We don’t want anybody here, this is not your place any more because we have business to do here,’ ” said Dhunya Chan, a 51-year-old farmer from Athonj, speaking through a translator. “We ignored them. We thought they were just talking. Three days later the army arrived and started dragging people out. They came on foot and with helicopters. My mother-in-law was killed before she could get out. Now we are here and we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The result has been a ghastly scene in Biem, where treatable diseases are spreading among the refugees for lack of medicine to slow them.
The refugees’ plight has been worsened by Khartoum’s refusal to allow UN planes to land on the strip. This means the migrants are cut off from Operation Lifeline Sudan, a co-operative of UN and non-governmental organizations that is the main source of relief in the country.
So should Talisman be permitted, along with its Chinese and Malaysian partners, to assist a regime with an undeniable record of atrocities committed against its own civilians? Should Ottawa intervene, as the United States has done, by outlawing trade with Khartoum?
For aid workers like Mr. Cornwell, both these questions are no-brainers. After five years of bringing relief to Sudan, the 53-year-old pastor cites Biem as evidence Khartoum is practising genocide against the southern Christians—that it is bent on extinguishing the indigenous population surrounding the oilfields by cutting them off from the most basic sustenance.
“You won’t find this anywhere else in Sudan,” he shrugged. “Yes, you’ll find poverty and, yes, you’ll find hunger. But you won’t find people with absolutely no means of care, and so stricken with disease.”