Lundin Petroleum has been forced to suspend all oil exploration activities in southern Sudan, perhaps permanently. Recent actions by the southern military opposition have made continued operations untenable. Indeed, highly credible sources from the region report that a Lundin helicopter was shot down at Leer, near the southern end of the new oil road that has been the occasion of so much human displacement and destruction. The pilot is reported to be very seriously injured, and has been flown to South Africa for treatment. As dry season fighting begins again in earnest, the growing reunification of John Garang and Riek Machar and their respective forces bodes extremely ominously for oil development in the south. Talisman Energy and its Greater Nile partners remain the primary targets.
Eric Reeves [January 22, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Numerous intelligence reports had been received by this source prior to Lundin’s press release of today, announcing that the company was suspending all development operations in southern Sudan because of military insecurity. Today’s announcement was made in the name of Lundin as well as its partners in Block 5a, Petronas of Malaysia and OMV of Austria (Block 5a abuts Talisman’s Blocks 1, 2 and 4, and lies chiefly to the southeast).
Though there is in Lundin’s press release a good deal of corporate effort expended in downplaying the significance of this development, it is in fact extraordinary. And events are much more threatening to further oil development than Lundin management is prepared to admit publicly (the press release makes no mention of the helicopter incident, the injury to the Lundin pilot, or the reported presence of two government army officers aboard at the time).
Lundin’s Block 5a concession has been serviced by a new elevated, all-weather road running from Bentiu to Leer; it was ultimately to have run to the White Nile at Adok. The road has, from the time of its completion to Leer, been afforded what the Government of Sudan believed to be maximum military security. The fact that oil development operations have been suspended in Block 5a (see sudanupdate.org/reports/repts.htm for an excellent map of the concession blocks) signifies that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) has begun to make good on its reiterated threats to halt oil development.
The SPLA/M leadership has for several years declared that so long as oil development prolongs the war, exacerbates human displacement in the south, and supports the Khartoum regime in its genocidal military practices in the oil regions, they will consider oil development infrastructure to be legitimate targets of war. This threat has been typically ignored or downplayed in public comments by the companies operating in Sudan, especially Talisman Energy. This is no longer possible.
Forcing a suspension of development activities in Block 5a may be the best evidence to date of the consequences of growing Nuer/Dinka reconciliation (the Dinka and Nuer are the two largest tribal groups in southern Sudan, and Khartoum’s military strategy has largely depended on supplying arms, ammunition and money in an effort to pit them against one another). The recent formal reuniting of Riek Machar and John Garang, whose split in 1991 was so devastating to the southern military cause, is symbolic of the strides that have been made over many months now to bring about unity in the southern cause, military and otherwise. Since the oil regions (certainly Block 5a) lie primarily in Nuer areas, the military significance of a reuniting of Dinka and Nuer forces can hardly be overstated.
Lundin’s withdrawal is a response not just to the shooting down of one of its helicopters, but to recent military attacks on the ground in the Leer area where the helicopter was downed. It has become obvious that none of Lundin’s highly promising exploratory wells can be developed in such a precarious security situation, and the company press release is simply an acknowledgment of this reality. It is highly unlikely that Lundin (which had been previously forced to suspend oil operations in 2000) will contemplate a return in the foreseeable future. The military tide has shifted against the government and oil developers in Block 5a.
The obvious question raised by Lundin’s suspension of activities is what will occur militarily in the adjacent concession blocks of Talisman Energy and its Malaysian and Chinese partners. Blocks 1 (“Unity”), 2 (“Heglig”), and 4 lie to the north and west of Bentiu, though some parts of Block 4 actually lie south of Bentiu (the epicenter of Block 4 activity by Talisman is Kaikang, about 50 miles west of Bentiu).
This past August, the SPLA successfully attacked the nerve center of oil development activities at Heglig. The Khartoum regime responded by redeploying significant military assets to bolster and tighten the security corridor around Heglig. But the regime’s military forces are already spread thin (one reason for the military success of the SPLA in Block 5a). And Heglig is not the only major target in the vast concessions: individual oil wells, the infrastructure in Unity Field, the oil pipelines, the critically important oil pumping stations are all well known to the SPLA from elaborate reconnaissance efforts. All are considerably more vulnerable than Heglig, especially since the SPLA has the advantage of choosing when and where to attack.
The report of SPLA acquisition of eastern European surface-to-surface missiles is also important to bear in mind (vide “God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan,” International Crisis Group, [Brussels, January 2002], page 25). These would be potent weapons in attacking oil infrastructure, and offer the SPLA a stand-off capacity in attacking Heglig or other important targets.
The dry season of fighting has only begun; southern military opposition efforts will undoubtedly focus sharply on the operations and infrastructure of Talisman and its Greater Nile partners. It is in my view extremely likely that there will be a significant, perhaps devastating attack in the next three months.
The only solution to ongoing war is a just peace for the people of the south, including revenue sharing from oil wealth. The only way in which such a just peace can be negotiated is in the context of a robust peace process, supported vigorously and creatively by the US. To date, the Danforth mission—despite the significant success of the Nuba Mountain cease-fire—has done little to reinvigorate the peace process, or lay out a plan for deploying US diplomatic, political, and economic assets in the peace process. Khartoum’s intransigence evidently bulks large in the excessively cautious and timid thinking about a larger and more active American commitment to the peace process. Given the enormity of human destruction and suffering in Sudan, the US must be much more aggressive and accepting of the attendant risks of failure.
In turn, if oil companies operating in Sudan were truly acting in their self-interest, they would be pressing hard, with all possible leverage, for Khartoum to engage in good faith negotiations in the IGAD peace process, as well as signaling its intention to honor previous commitments made under IGAD auspices.