5 - War strategies

"The aim seems to be to form a 200-mile buffer zone around the oilfields which the SPLA cannot cross, and then keep the southern factions too busy fighting each other to be able to bother with the oil," said a diplomat in Khartoum. (Financial Times 11 June 1998)

Although it has consulted specialists such as Control Risks and Rapport, Canada's Talisman says it does not use private security firms in the field, and looks solely to the government army for protection of its oil wells and pipeline. In doing so, it has benefitted from a long government policy of expelling civilians from the areas of Talisman's operation to create a no-man's land around the wells of Heglig and Unity, the oil fields which straddle the north-south border.

Now the area south of Unity, known as Block 5A, in which oil companies from Sweden, Austria, Malaysia and possibly France also have an interest, is undergoing similar trauma. If it were not for oil development, the army would not be displacing civilians from those areas.

To ensure an uninterrupted flow of oil and protect the pipeline from attacks, three thousand government troops have been assigned to the area to guarantee "security".

In practice, Nuer and Dinka Southerners from Western Upper Nile and Nuba people from Southern Kordofan have variously been removed by force or kept under harsh military control. Local Nuer fighters, while warring among themselves, have helped clear the main anti-government SPLA forces from the zone, and militiamen loyal to the Khartoum government have been burning villages in an organised campaign. Pro-northern ethnic groups are reportedly being moved in to the pipeline zone.

Talisman's Jim Buckee said he is satisfied security is adequate to protect the pumping stations and pipeline: "We've seen it in Algeria, Yemen, Indonesia and so on. No matter what happens, the oil field keeps going because nobody comes in promising a better life for the people and then turns off the tap."

"The alternative is stagnation," Buckee said in an interview in Heglig. "I fervently hope that the wealth . . . is for the benefit of all the people in Sudan, including the people in the south."

Talisman has been a staunch supporter of the Islamist government, and has apparently never had any contact with the SPLA or the NDA opposition, despite the proximity of the SPLA to some of its operations.

Nor, it seems, has Talisman conducted any thorough investigation of conditions in Sudan. It contents itself with the government's version of events, and ignores or denigrates an array of public reports on conflict and human rights abuses in Sudan which contradict government assertions.

Mujahideen "Protectors Of Oil Brigade"

"There are plots being prepared by the US and Israel to be executed by Uganda and other hirelings for preventing exportation of petroleum as of June 30," President Bashir told a police conference on 5 May 1999. [The regime repeatedly makes claims of foreign threats, and unconvincingly portrays the opposition as mere stooges of foreign powers.]

Bashir called upon "all young men" to enlist to a popular defence brigade to defend petroleum sites and the 1,600-km pipeline stretching from the oilfields to the Red Sea. Khartoum has already sent a first batch of "Protectors of Oil Brigade" mujahideen to defend the industry, army spokesman Lt-Gen Mohamed Osman Yassin said on Sudan TV on 6 May.

 The pipeline route

The original pipeline route, first proposed in the early 1980s when the American company Chevron discovered the oil concessions, ran via the Nile town of Kosti. But Sudan's nearby eastern border is now embroiled in a military offensive by the opposition NDA alliance, and has become a launch pad for SPLA attacks. So the new route runs via El Obeid, in the centre of the country, well away from the Eritrean border. Feeder pipelines from four new finds in the Unity exploration block - Toma South, El Nar, El Toor, and El Harr - will join the main pipeline from the Heglig and Unity fields.

The pipeline also skirts west of the Nuba Mountains, where the government has been conducting an ethnocidal war and blocking aid efforts. Ismael Khamis, commander of the SPLA's Fifth Nuba Mountains Division, interviewed by BBC correspondent Julie Flint in Changaro on 4 February 1999, said that the government launched its early dry-season offensive in the oil zone at the end of 1998 for "four reasons, one of which was oil."

"They are building the pipeline from El-Obeid to Dilling and through Keiga and to Keilak, and from there to the Heglig and Unity wells, west of Pariang," said Khamis. "The army wants to pin us down in our positions so they can get the pipeline going. This oil will be very important for them. Why? For their economy and their war effort."

6 - History: déjà vu?