Information and reports coming from a variety of highly authoritative sources in the oil regions of southern Sudan paint a bleak picture of accelerating human destruction and displacement. The current dry season fighting is clearly viewed both by the Khartoum regime and the southern military opposition as critical, perhaps decisive. At the same time, precisely because of an unprecedented concentration of military forces, civilian suffering has been extreme. The refusal of the Khartoum regime to enter into good faith peace negotiations— reflected revealingly in an unwillingness to keep its pledges on the key US-sponsored “confidence-building measures”—has inevitably led to military conflict of the most intense sort. This conflict is both directly related to and indisputably sustained by oil development. Only a suspension of production and development throughout the oil regions can provide sufficient incentive for Khartoum to negotiate a true end to the fighting.
Eric Reeves [February 18, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
 Southern Sudan now presents, with terrible clarity, the shameful spectacle of Western and Asian oil companies operating, and profiting, amidst the growing carnage of Sudan’s southern oil regions. This part of Sudan has already seen hundreds of thousands of casualties and displaced civilians. Even so, other companies continue to jostle for oil development rights and access in new concession areas. At the same time, various European countries are scrambling for lucrative commercial contracts with the Khartoum regime, spurred on by the lure of rapidly accruing petrodollars.
All this occurs in the very midst of Sudan’s civil war, now in its nineteenth year. These many years have made Sudan’s conflict the most destructive of its kind anywhere in the world. More than two million human beings, overwhelmingly civilians in the south, have now perished. The imperative of peace could not be more obvious, even as it is just as clear that peace will never come unless the Khartoum regime feels significant international economic and diplomatic pressure or domestic military pressure.
None of this is lost on the people of the south, or the southern military opposition. Oil production and development has consequently become the primary military focus in an increasingly desperate fight for survival. This is the context for the following military analysis, which derives from numerous communications with personnel in the UN, nongovernmental organizations, human rights reporters, members of the southern military opposition, present and former government officials from several countries, and others with first-hand information about the situation in Western Upper Nile Province and other areas that are part of what must now be called Sudan’s “oil war.”
 Activities by the military forces of the Khartoum regime:
In addition to savage aerial bombardment of the towns of Akuem and Nimne, Khartoum’s forces have engaged in extremely heavy bombing and helicopter gunship attacks on the areas south of Bentiu, especially in the area of Block 5a, the concession in which Sweden’s Lundin Petroleum was forced to suspend activities in mid-January. Regaining control of Lundin’s oil road leading from Bentiu to Adok and the White Nile remains a primary military objective for Khartoum. This in turn has made the destruction of civilian presence in the oil regions south of Bentiu a military priority.
For example, one human rights observer, just back from the region, reports that she interviewed women whose children had been “literally ripped from their arms by Khartoum’s forces.” The same observer noted that the forcible conscription of southern Sudanese has “increased dramatically in Western Upper Nile and all roads leading north.” This reflects Khartoum’s desire for southerners to be used as “cannon fodder,” as well as increasing difficulties in conscripting soldiers in the north (the subject of several recent wire reports).
This is a terrible reprise of the civilian destruction reported in detail by Christian Aid (UK) in 2001:
[Khartoum’s] troops and militias had burned and depopulated the entire length of [Lundin’s] oil road. In visits to Western Upper Nile in August and November 2000, Christian Aid found thousands of Nuer civilians displaced from villages along this road. They all told the same tale. Antonovs bombed the villages to scatter the people. Then the government troops arrived by truck and helicopter, burning the villages and killing anyone who was unable to flee—in most cases, the old and the very young.” [from “The Scorched Earth: Oil and War in Sudan,” Christian Aid (UK), 2001]
In response to Khartoum’s renewed depredations, considerable military resources of the southern military opposition are being deployed to capture the key town of Leer on the oil road between Kock and Adok—this according to reports from an authoritative regional source who has just returned from the area.
North of Bentiu in Ruweng County, a highly reliable and seasoned source—again just returning from the area—estimates that well over three quarters of the civilian population is presently displaced. Ruweng County includes a great deal of the concession areas of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, comprising Talisman Energy (Canada), Petronas (Malaysia), and China National Petroleum Corp. Most of those displaced have been pushed into the southeast and northeast corners of their county (the areas furthest from oil development). Ominously, the southeast corner is a location that is habitable only in the dry season; people in this location will not be able to plant their crops because they are too close to the river, which will flood the ground in the next rainy season.
A militia proxy of Khartoum, under the command of James Ler, has now been authoritatively identified as the attacking force that systematically destroyed the emergency humanitarian health facilities in the town of Nimne, 30 miles east of Bentiu in the first week of February 2002. It was Nimne that was again attacked, by means of aerial bombardment, on February 9, killing an aid worker for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres and four other civilians. Both James Ler and the notorious Paulino Matip continue to operate as leaders of militias supplied and protected by Khartoum, especially out of the oil town of Bentiu. (An already swollen Bentiu continues to receive new waves of civilians displaced by the oil war; thousands have been registered in the first two weeks of February.)
Elsewhere in Western Upper Nile, Khartoum is now moving two large convoys from Lieri and Pariang to Mankour; they are being assisted by a convoy sent from the Nuba Mountains. A general assessment by a former high-ranking official of a Western government indicates that Khartoum has made an even broader military commitment throughout Western Upper Nile, pouring in substantial new military resources and personnel. This same source reports that all signs indicate civilians will face devastation in the now rapidly accelerating fighting.
 Military responses by the southern opposition:
The southern opposition, in the form of a united Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SPFD), has continued to make considerable strides in integrating their forces, but have not yet fully integrated communications and command structure. And though too often unable to protect civilians from Khartoum’s military assaults, especially bombing and helicopter gunship attacks, there is much evidence that they will soon be in a position to strike hard at oil infrastructure throughout Western Upper Nile.
Despite repeated warnings from the SPLA, Talisman Energy seems willing to put its personnel at rapidly increasing military risk. The company has responded in some ways, and procedures for the movement of Talisman personnel into the oil fields has shifted significantly since the successful SPLA military assault on the Heglig nerve center in August 2001. Even so, Talisman’s insurance costs have reportedly skyrocketed, and they remain at risk of losing insurance coverage altogether. The southern military opposition is well aware of the difficulties that would face all the oil companies if operations were significantly disrupted, and such disruption consequently remains the highest military priority.
The SPLA/SPDF reunification that was symbolically ratified with the reconciliation of John Garang and Riek Machar continues to be underestimated in its military significance. Already a number of commanders who were proxies of Khartoum have realigned themselves with the united SPLA, largely ending Khartoum’s previously highly effective campaign of “divide and conquer.”
Moreover, a memorandum of agreement between the SPLA and the Popular National Congress of Islamist ideologue Hassan el-Turabi—though intensely controversial—has had the indisputable effect of dampening the ardor of any number of would-be mujahadeen. Turabi has not changed his thinking, and remains under house arrest during his ongoing dispute with the National Islamic Front regime. But his influence among northern Islamic constituencies remains potent, and it is now working effectively against Khartoum’s already highly distressed military recruiting efforts.
A few southern commanders, like Paulino Matip and James Ler, remain essentially mercenaries for Khartoum. But negotiations between other wavering commanders (especially of the South Sudan Liberation Movement [SSLM]) and the SPLA show considerable likelihood of further integration of southern military forces. In a fundamental sense, these are negotiations to generate further Dinka-Nuer reconciliation. Because the contested areas in the oil regions are so largely Nuer, such reconciliation has increasingly come to be perceived as essential for survival.
A full integration of command, communication, and logistical resources of the southern forces, Nuer and Dinka, will present Khartoum’s forces with an extremely formidable challenge. A united south has always been Khartoum’s greatest fear.
Though the advantage in military arms and equipment remains decisively in Khartoum’s favor, a unified SPLA/SPDF represents a series of threats that have not been confronted since oil development activities began in earnest in the later 1990s. Oil wells in Blocks 1, 2, and 4 are highly dispersed and a number of these will almost certainly be seized and/or destroyed in the coming weeks. Infrastructure at Unity and Kaikang (the center of Talisman Energy’s efforts in Block 4) is considerably more vulnerable than the epicenter of operations at Heglig. The oil road south of Bentiu had been heavily militarized, but SPLA/SPDF forces have already succeeded this dry season in forcing the withdrawal of Lundin Petroleum (and its Austrian and Malaysian partners). The road is highly vulnerable at a number of places, and even heavy convoys are at much increased risk.
North of Heglig, the oil pipeline and its critical pumping stations have been well surveyed by the SPLA, and vulnerabilities have been carefully noted. Though an attack this far north would present severe logistical and transport challenges, the sheer length of the pipeline insures that it remains on the target list.
Most significantly, the SPLA always retains the enormous tactical advantage of choosing when and where to attack. There is presently no way for Khartoum’s forces, even in their augmented state, to compensate for this tactical advantage.
Some of the most intense fighting in coming weeks is likely to be in the form of SPLA attacks on Khartoum’s military convoys. In the past, the SPLA has had been highly effective in attacking these convoys at their most vulnerable moments. Khartoum nonetheless seems to be surprisingly confident that it can move these convoys in Western Upper Nile. The next few weeks are likely to test that confidence. Several highly successful convoy attacks this dry season have already captured or destroyed a great deal of military equipment and killed many hundreds of Khartoum’s troops.
Heglig, the center of operations for Talisman and its Greater Nile
partners, seems relatively secure for this dry season. But there are no guarantees, as last August proved conclusively. Heglig facilities and personnel are in the main not “hardened,” and the explosions that occurred as a result of the August SPLA attack might very easily have been catastrophically destructive, according to a confidential Western government assessment. Heglig is more likely the target for attack in the coming rainy season (August is the rainiest month in this part of Sudan). Khartoum’s advantage in armored vehicles is effectively negated, as they can travel only on all-weather roads.
Given the urgency of their effort, the SPLA will almost certainly hit Heglig again, and with as much possible force as can be projected. They understand perfectly well that a fully successful attack on Heglig will accomplish their goal of shutting down oil production.
With the advantage of choosing time and location, and given the general vulnerability of oil facilities, the SPLA is now very confident that it can succeed in its military goals. Morale remains exceedingly high among SPLA forces, even as Khartoum’s difficulty in recruitment in the north reflects what has been widely reported as very poor troop morale in the south, especially outside the officer corps.
[Southern Blue Nile/Eastern Upper Nile: There has been no decisive shift in the fighting in the eastern oil region, viz. the area near Adar Yel. Both Eastern Upper Nile and Southern Blue Nile Province remain in the grip of a military stalemate. The Chinese-dominated Adar Yel project continues, and oil is barged from Melut up-river to Renk, where it is off-loaded and transported to Khartoum. Detailed intelligence on the region is extremely difficult to come by, as few nongovernmental organizations feel that there is the requisite security required for operations.]
 Further humanitarian consequences of the Sudan’s “oil war”:
The absence of humanitarian access has meant that great numbers of displaced civilians in the oil regions have existed in a virtually continual state of food shortage. Without adequate security, the humanitarian efforts of the UN-sponsored Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), as well as non-OLS efforts (e.g., those by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres[MSF]) simply cannot proceed. Emergency veterinary care has also been halted, with devastating consequences. Cattle are critical in the food economies of both Dinkas and Nuers (the two largest tribal groups in southern Sudan). A human rights observer notes that in Western Upper Nile, “cattle are dying in large numbers; they were literally dropping dead at out feet in the cattle camps from a lung disease called Yak-Yak.”
The most recent systematic survey of humanitarian access in the oil regions of Western Upper Nile reveals that Khartoum continues to deny access to a great many critical locations. Many of these denials have no military purpose whatsoever; they are (like Antonov bombing attacks) part of a general war on southern civil society, and are intended to put deadly pressure on the civilian populations served at these humanitarian sites.
 Khartoum’s refusal to negotiate peace in good faith:
Southern Sudan presents some of the very most demanding circumstances imaginable for humanitarian relief. The upsurge in fighting in the oil regions will certainly make such relief even more difficult to provide. Only a just peace provides any sort of promise that conditions for humanitarian relief will improve; and a just peace requires serious, good-faith engagement by the Khartoum regime. The continuing refusal of the regime to negotiate peace—the persistent effort to substitute talk of peace for substantial diplomatic engagement—should be clear to all who will simply judge Khartoum by its actions.
Khartoum pledged to US special envoy John Danforth that it would halt aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets in southern Sudan for a period of four weeks. Notably, this promise came after Khartoum had refused the US request that there be international monitors for a bombing cessation. All too predictably, Khartoum violated its pledge. Both Akuem (Bahr el-Ghazal) and Nimne (Western Upper Nile, 160 miles to the east) were bombed by Khartoum on February 9, 2002. There were fatalities and injuries from both attacks, including children and a relief worker for MSF.
Khartoum has also twice violated the Nuba Mountain cease-fire, and there is growing concern that the cease-fire will break down completely once US special envoy John Danforth has submitted his report assessing Khartoum’s willingness to negotiate peace (the report, presently being drafted, will likely be submitted the first week of March).
There is only one way in which good-faith negotiations on Khartoum’s part can be assured. There is only one way in which sufficient urgency can be attached to the process of achieving the just peace that will end massive civilian destruction and displacement in southern Sudan’s oil regions: all oil operations must be suspended pending the negotiation of peace. The alternative is oil extraction and development that will continue to exacerbate what is already the world’s longest and most destructive civil conflict.