1 - Introduction
OIL BOOM?
On 30 August 1999, Sudan filled its first tanker-load of oil.

A gigantic pipeline snaking up from oilfields over 1600 kilometres into the African hinterland was at last disgorging 100,000 barrels a day of crude oil at a nearly-completed marine terminal near Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. It offered fulfilment of countless promises of oil wealth that had been repeated to the Sudanese people by their rulers over the last quarter of a century. Billions of dollars had been invested, first in exploration, then pipeline, refinery and terminal construction. Now Sudan, Africa's largest country, could join OPEC and hold its head up as an oil exporter alongside Saudi Arabia and Libya, said Sudan's government ministers. Their critics replied that if it did join OPEC it would be politically insignificant alongside the major producers. Better parallels would be with the repression, sabotage, corruption and pollution encountered in Burma, Colombia or the Niger Delta.

Just three weeks later, on 20 September 1999, opponents of Sudan's military regime blew a hole in the newly-completed pipeline.

The explosion took place just outside the town of Atbara, the centre of Sudan's railway industry, on the river Nile above Khartoum. The location is important because - if one believed the oil companies or the government - it was so unlikely. Atbara is in the heart of supposedly peaceful northern Sudan, 1000km away from the officially acknowledged civil war zone of the south. Southern Sudanese have long felt that they were being cheated of the potential oil wealth, which was already a major factor when the civil war rekindled, way back in 1983. But the September 1999 blast showed the real strength of anti-government feeling - and determination to halt the oil project - among Muslim northerners, too.

The attack shattered the calculated charm of the government's recent public relations efforts.

It began issuing threats to neighbouring Egypt and Eritrea, demanding that they expel the opposition's leaders there, while arresting opponents and lashing out at the local press.

"Its campaign to convince the world that it has security under control, and that serious talks about ending Sudan's war are now possible, [seem] to be wrong on both counts." (Africa Confidential 8 October 1999)

The explosion also embarrassed the Board members of the Greater Nile Operating Company, including Talisman Energy Inc of Calgary - formerly British Petroleum Canada - who were meeting in Khartoum that week. They had claimed for years that the only risk to their project was in the southern war zone, and that peace was in any case close at hand. Now they were under greater pressure than ever to talk to the banned opposition, which had long since declared their installations throughout the country to be military targets. However, their tone remained defiant. Just a public relations failure, they said.

It is clear that more damage to the pipe is anticipated and taken into account in the project plans. Not so clear who cleans up the mess. Talisman's plans are too "sensitive" to disclose in public.

Talisman said the Atbara explosion was a "minor incident"; repairs were underway and no disruption to production or tanker filling was anticipated. The company also announced a new production record of 136,000 barrels a day (b/d). In the official Sudan News Agency (SUNA), Hassan Mohamed Ali al-Tom, secretary general for energy and mining, attributed the explosion to a "subversive act" and said it caused "limited damage".

It took six days to repair the pipe and get the oil flowing again.

"The National Islamic Front regime's elaborate charm campaign, which has spawned a flurry of peace and business initiatives by outsiders, will be harder to fix than the pipeline. For the government, the pipeline symbolises its purported openness and seriousness about democratic reform. That message is for Western and Arab business and diplomatic consumption; for most Sudanese, the NIF continues to preside over a regime of war, politically created famine, religious persecution and torture." (Africa Confidential 8 October 1999)

Sudan's oilfields, which lie underneath the dividing line between the warring north and south of the country, have been fuelling conflict for the last 20 years.

Sudan's oil-rush has long been bloodier and messier than its defenders would like the world to believe, and systematic destruction and relocation of communities are part and parcel of the oil project. People in the areas around the militarised oil installations and the pipeline route have been subjected to devastating attacks by government forces for years. They are being driven from their homes by air-raids and bombardment, and by militias supported by the government, resulting in horrendous suffering.

The former UN Human Rights Rapporteur who worked on Sudan for years, Dr Gaspar Biro, has commented that if the oil companies don't know what is going on, they're not looking over the fences of their compounds.

Nonetheless, along with Canada, China and Malaysia, European countries are increasingly involved in Sudan's oil project.

They are ignoring the role it plays in the conflict and instead casting it in a favourable light. And the European Union seems to be doing the same.

 OIL BOOM?
 On 30 August 1999, Sudan filled its first tanker-load of oil.

A gigantic pipeline snaking up from oilfields over 1600 kilometres into the African hinterland was at last disgorging 100,000 barrels a day of crude oil at a nearly-completed marine terminal near Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. It offered fulfilment of countless promises of oil wealth that had been repeated to the Sudanese people by their rulers over the last quarter of a century. Billions of dollars had been invested, first in exploration, then pipeline, refinery and terminal construction. Now Sudan, Africa's largest country, could join OPEC and hold its head up as an oil exporter alongside Saudi Arabia and Libya, said Sudan's government ministers. Their critics replied that if it did join OPEC it would be politically insignificant alongside the major producers. Better parallels would be with the repression, sabotage, corruption and pollution encountered in Burma, Colombia or the Niger Delta.

Just three weeks later, on 20 September 1999, opponents of Sudan's military regime blew a hole in the newly-completed pipeline.

The explosion took place just outside the town of Atbara, the centre of Sudan's railway industry, on the river Nile above Khartoum. The location is important because - if one believed the oil companies or the government - it was so unlikely. Atbara is in the heart of supposedly peaceful northern Sudan, 1000km away from the officially acknowledged civil war zone of the south. Southern Sudanese have long felt that they were being cheated of the potential oil wealth, which was already a major factor when the civil war rekindled, way back in 1983. But the September 1999 blast showed the real strength of anti-government feeling - and determination to halt the oil project - among Muslim northerners, too.

The attack shattered the calculated charm of the government's recent public relations efforts.

It began issuing threats to neighbouring Egypt and Eritrea, demanding that they expel the opposition's leaders there, while arresting opponents and lashing out at the local press.

"Its campaign to convince the world that it has security under control, and that serious talks about ending Sudan's war are now possible, [seem] to be wrong on both counts." (Africa Confidential 8 October 1999)

The explosion also embarrassed the Board members of the Greater Nile Operating Company, including Talisman Energy Inc of Calgary - formerly British Petroleum Canada - who were meeting in Khartoum that week. They had claimed for years that the only risk to their project was in the southern war zone, and that peace was in any case close at hand. Now they were under greater pressure than ever to talk to the banned opposition, which had long since declared their installations throughout the country to be military targets. However, their tone remained defiant. Just a public relations failure, they said.

It is clear that more damage to the pipe is anticipated and taken into account in the project plans. Not so clear who cleans up the mess. Talisman's plans are too "sensitive" to disclose in public.

Talisman said the Atbara explosion was a "minor incident"; repairs were underway and no disruption to production or tanker filling was anticipated. The company also announced a new production record of 136,000 barrels a day (b/d). In the official Sudan News Agency (SUNA), Hassan Mohamed Ali al-Tom, secretary general for energy and mining, attributed the explosion to a "subversive act" and said it caused "limited damage".

It took six days to repair the pipe and get the oil flowing again.

"The National Islamic Front regime's elaborate charm campaign, which has spawned a flurry of peace and business initiatives by outsiders, will be harder to fix than the pipeline. For the government, the pipeline symbolises its purported openness and seriousness about democratic reform. That message is for Western and Arab business and diplomatic consumption; for most Sudanese, the NIF continues to preside over a regime of war, politically created famine, religious persecution and torture." (Africa Confidential 8 October 1999)

Sudan's oilfields, which lie underneath the dividing line between the warring north and south of the country, have been fuelling conflict for the last 20 years.

Sudan's oil-rush has long been bloodier and messier than its defenders would like the world to believe, and systematic destruction and relocation of communities are part and parcel of the oil project. People in the areas around the militarised oil installations and the pipeline route have been subjected to devastating attacks by government forces for years. They are being driven from their homes by air-raids and bombardment, and by militias supported by the government, resulting in horrendous suffering.

The former UN Human Rights Rapporteur who worked on Sudan for years, Dr Gaspar Biro, has commented that if the oil companies don't know what is going on, they're not looking over the fences of their compounds.

Nonetheless, along with Canada, China and Malaysia, European countries are increasingly involved in Sudan's oil project.

They are ignoring the role it plays in the conflict and instead casting it in a favourable light. And the European Union seems to be doing the same.

2 - Differing realities