Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Dow Jones News Wire, and Associated press are all reporting a major attack by the SPLA on one of the main oil field installations (at Heglig) in southern Sudan. It is unclear whether there have been casualties among Talisman Energy’s Canadian workers on site. This may be the first strike against the central facilities of Talisman Energy and its partners in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company; given the level of oil-driven destruction in southern Sudan, it will not be the last. Clearly the SPLA has significantly strengthened its military situation in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile. To have penetrated Government of Sudan military security as far as Heglig gives evidence of a keen intelligence operation, excellent logistics, and impressive tactics.
Eric Reeves [August 7, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Without further information, it is difficult to ascertain the full implications of the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) attack on Heglig. The size of the attacking unit, the amount of damage to oil facilities, the number of casualties (and whether any are expatriate)—all remain to be clarified. It is thoroughly improbable, however, that a significant assault on Heglig, the very center of oil operations in southern Sudan, has not occurred.
The SPLA claims to have attacked both oil installations and the air strip at Heglig (it is from this airstrip that Khartoum’s helicopter gunships have continued to attack civilians as part of a campaign of scorched-earth warfare). They also claim to have inflicted a number of casualties; there is no word as to whether any of these are Canadian. (Strikingly, Talisman Energy has made no comment on the attack two and a half days after it occurred.)
As to the predictable denials from the Government of Sudan (one of which has already been reported, though it is quite muddled): Khartoum has consistently lied and misrepresented the military situation in various theaters over the last several years. Their most recent record of prevarication in reporting on the fall of Raja in western Bahr el-Ghazal sets what may be an unsurpassable benchmark.
Talisman has also consistently failed to disclose the truth: this is most dramatically illustrated in their dismissive comments of the extraordinary convoy attack on the Wankai/Mayom road on June 8 of this year. Talisman spokesman David Mann was quoted by the National Post [June 13, 2001] as saying of the convoy attack by the SPLA, that: “there were only two or three company trucks stolen, with some damage to bulldozers and other road construction equipment.” He declared the account of the number of soldiers killed to be “exaggerated.”
Unfortunately for Talisman’s efforts at prevarication, a Swedish journalist was an eyewitness to the attack and confirmed the SPLA account of hundreds of government troop casualties (as well as three Chinese oil workers killed) and the destruction of several tens of vehicles, including tanks. [See Peter Strandberg, “Bloody War over Sudan’s Oil Fields,” Gteborgs-Posten of Sweden, June 26, 2001 (dateline: Chot Jok, Western Upper Nile)—translated version available upon request].
Talisman will need to be in a high gear of damage control: their Sudan asset, clearly for sale now, will take a terrible beating in value if Talisman cannot convince their potential buyers that security in the oil regions is acceptable. To be sure, Malaysia’s and China’s state-owned firms are Talisman’s partners in the Greater Nile project, as well as their most likely buyers. And they don’t care if a few of their national workers come back in body bags (Chinese workers already have). But they will know that Talisman’s asking price can be beaten down severely if security for the oil operations is shown to be as porous as the SPLA attack has revealed it to be.
And it must be emphasized again, given the extraordinary nature of the SPLA’s military attack on the epicenter of the Greater Nile oil project, that the overall military situation has shifted significantly, and further assaults can be confidently predicted. Khartoum’s response has been to increase aerial bombardment of civilians and to further restrict humanitarian aid access (reported by the UN’s “Integrated Regional Information Network” on August 4, 2001 and August 6, 2001). But this is not a military response to the situation in the oil regions; it is a vicious, finally genocidal effort to destroy the peoples of southern Sudan. As such, it will only increase the determination of the SPLA to attack the oil facilities they perceive as the source of military revenues for such assaults on civilians and humanitarian relief.
News Article by AFP posted on August 07, 2001
at 12:23:58: EST (-5 GMT)
Sudan rebels claim first attack on oilfields, inflicting “heavy casualties”
by Peter King
CAIRO, Aug 7 (AFP) — Sudanese rebels on Tuesday claimed a landmark raid on oilfields in central Sudan, inflicting “heavy casualties,” and warned foreign oil firms to pull out of the region.
If confirmed, it would be the first time in the 18-year-civil war against Khartoum that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) have
succeeded in attacking the oilfields, which started pumping oil for export in 1999.
“A special unit from the SPLA managed to attack the nerve system of the oil production in the Unity province at Higlieg town,” before withdrawing safely to their rear bases, SPLA spokesman Yasser Arman told AFP in Cairo by telephone from his Asmara base.
Rebel leader John Garang warned in June that foreign oil firms in Sudan were “legitimate targets” for attack and vowed that SPLA forces would one day seize the oil fields.
Arman said the special unit had attacked Higlieg at dawn on Sunday and “inflicted heavy losses in equipment, oil installations and lives on the government side.”
The Sudanese government’s official army spokesman said on Sunday that Khartoum troops had repelled a rebel attack that morning in northern Unity state, in a region not far from Higlieg, but it was not clear if he was
referring to the same incident.
General Mohamed Beshir Suleiman was quoted by SUNA news agency as saying his troops stood up to the infiltrators, “drove them back and tightened control of the area” which he said was “now quiet and secure”.
Suleiman did not mention any casualties on either side. The government claimed to have repelled another such attack in early July.
The SPLA spokesman could not provide details of casualties, but said the rebels had attacked both oil installations and the airport in Higlieg which, according to the government, is actually situated in South Kordofan state bordering Unity state to the north.
Arman claimed SPLA troops are holding permanent positions around Wang Kai and Moyom towns in Unity State.
“The SPLA would like to make it clear that such operations and more intensive operations will continue in the oilfields,” Arman said, adding that SPLA forces had recently been bolstered by thousands of new
“Foreign oil companies must realise before it is too late that the SPLA’s arm is long and that they must halt their operations,” he warned.
The southern-based rebels specifically warned oil companies and their personnel in June to withdraw ahead of an offensive on the oil-rich Unity state, amid a series of rebel advances earlier this year.
The SPLA accuses Khartoum of using oil revenues to wage war against the southern separatists. The government has been exporting oil since the end of August 1999 with the help of Chinese, Malaysian, Canadian, Swedish and other companies.
The rebels also accuse the government of chasing hundreds of thousands of civilians from their homes in Unity state to clear the land
for oil operations.
The SPLA, which is based in mainly animist and Christian southern Sudan, has been waging an 18-year war against successive Muslim
and Arab governments in Khartoum.
Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989, and his government has pushed for establishing
Islamic law throughout the country, which the SPLA vehemently rejects.