Eric Reeves [May 28, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
Yesterday, the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum precipitated a massive and immediate humanitarian emergency by reneging on the longstanding terms of Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), the tenuous international relief effort that is all that stands between life and death for hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese civilians. The conditions stipulated by Khartoum initially included a complete shutting down of operations at Lokichokkio, the northern Kenyan town that is the center of all southern OLS humanitarian efforts. This comes on the heels of Khartoum’s denial of all aid flights into the oil regions of Western Upper Nile. Tragically, UN officials have largely capitulated to Khartoum’s outrageous dictates, insuring that the fate of OLS is now in serious doubt, along with the countless lives suddenly much more acutely at risk. Equally alarming are the repercussions for critically important non-OLS humanitarian aid, which is now highly exposed to military threats from Khartoum’s forces.
The working terms of agreement for Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) may seem to be arcane and maddeningly complex. But the essential features are clear enough: in the wake of a disastrous famine in 1988 in southern Sudan, the United Nations, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), and the Khartoum regime reached a tripartite agreement to allow humanitarian relief to reach noncombatants. The agreement worked satisfactorily for several years, but had clearly become seriously deficient by the time of the next great famine in the south (1998). For the last several years Khartoum has become ever more adept at manipulating the terms of OLS operation, creating bureaucratic obstacles and conditions of “insecurity” that obstruct humanitarian relief. This year Khartoum has also vastly expanded the areas in the oil regions to which all OLS relief flights are explicitly denied.
The BBC reported on April 27, 2002 that the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Sudan, Tom Vraalsen, had determined that Khartoum’s humanitarian flight bans had produced a terrifying prospect: “Increased restrictions on aviation trips carrying humanitarian aid threatens directly the lives of about 1.7 million people who are deprived of this aid, of which they are in dire need.”
1.7 million human beings are being deliberately put at risk by the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum. Central among the flight denials are those to the oil-rich regions of Western Upper Nile, where Khartoum is waging an exceedingly well-documented campaign of scorched-earth warfare to clear the oil concessions for Western and Asian oil companies. These flight bans on Western Upper Nile have subsequently been renewed through the present month (May), and Operation Lifeline Sudan is unable to provide or plan for the provision of aid to this intensely distressed area. Some relief needs are being met by courageous humanitarian organizations operating outside of OLS, but this is clearly inadequate to the very great needs of these people.
Numerous recent humanitarian assessments in Western Upper Nile forecast a grim time in the looming “hunger gap” (the period before next fall’s harvest). For example, the humanitarian organization Action Contre la Faim (ACF) recently issued an urgent alarm about the desperate food crisis in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile (reported May 8, 2002 by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks). In a telling sign of the terrible disaster unfolding, Action Contre la Faim has found that malnutrition rates among children in the most affected areas are as much as 100% higher than last year. In a clear challenge to a world that largely accepts the oil-driven destruction of southern Sudan, ACF declares: “We cannot then say we did not know; we cannot say there was nothing we could do.”
Yesterday, Khartoum dramatically increased the humanitarian stakes. In initial discussions with special envoy Vraalsen, First Vice President Ali Osman Taha (very likely the most powerful political figure in Khartoum’s junta) had declared that all OLS operations in Lokichokkio would be terminated (reported by Agence France-Presse, May 28, 2002; attached below). The effect of this would have been to end OLS altogether, no doubt the ultimate goal of Taha and the National Islamic Front. The callousness and ultimate destructiveness of this effort will shock only those who are not familiar with Khartoum’s use of food and humanitarian aid as a weapon of war—indeed, a terrifying weapon of mass destruction.
In the event, Vraalsen felt obliged to capitulate, agreeing to an arrangement that violates the primary working terms of the OLS agreement. This has been confirmed by multiple sources, both in the region and in Western governments. The deal struck may, or may not, buy a limited amount of time for food delivery into Western Upper Nile by avoiding a political confrontation with Khartoum.
But the upshot is that OLS will no longer be able to offer the desperate populations of Western Upper Nile humanitarian aid using the highly developed logistical resources at Lokichokkio; all OLS efforts for Western Upper Nile will now have to originate from the northern town of El Obeid, under Khartoum’s tight control. Moreover, it would seem a virtual certainty that the SPLM will not accept a deal that so flagrantly compromises the basic terms of the OLS agreement as it has evolved over the last thirteen years. This throws the future of all OLS operations into doubt, and Khartoum may yet succeed in its larger ambition of ending OLS altogether.
Further, what went unacknowledged by Vraalsen is the fact that non-OLS sources of humanitarian aid—which have been critical in getting food and medicine into Western Upper Nile, and which also use Lokichokkio—will now be exposed to the clear threat of being shot down or attacked on the ground by Khartoum’s military forces, which will not hesitate to fire upon humanitarian flights that are not part of OLS. In other words, Vraalsen has created a situation in which Khartoum’s forces will know that any flight originating from Lokichokkio is not an OLS flight. This has the effect of painting a very large bull’s-eye on all such flights.
Operation Lifeline Sudan was meant to secure humanitarian operations from the threats posed by ongoing military activities. In this latest degradation of the original ambitions for OLS, Khartoum’s brutal military ambitions in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile have been the deciding factor in securing agreement from the UN’s special envoy for Sudan about the nature of humanitarian aid delivery. It is a terribly dangerous precedent, one that may provoke the collapse of the OLS agreement. If this occurs, many tens of thousands of lives will be lost. These, too, will become part of the terrible cost of oil in Sudan.
Sudan tells UN to relocate relief operations center
KHARTOUM, May 28 (AFP) — The government of Sudan requested Tuesday that the United Nations move the center of relief operations from Kenya to areas under its control, the official SUNA news reported.
The demand was conveyed by Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha to the UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Tom Vraalsen, whom he met here, said SUNA.
The request reflects the government’s suspicion that some international organisations were using the UN-sponsored Operation Life-line Sudan (OLS) to provide assistance to the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
“Relief operations emanating from Lukichokio, Kenya, should be moved inside the country,” said Taha, quoted by SUNA.
“The government is committed to provide food and delivering relief to all its citizens in the south of the country,” including in the areas under SPLA control, Taha added.