Sudan: Oil Firms Accused of Fueling Mass Displacement and Killing

Oil companies operating in Sudan are complicit in the systematic depopulating of large areas of the country and atrocities against civilians, tens of thousands of whom have been killed and displaced from the areas around the oil fields, according to a report to be published today.

Christian Aid, in a searing report on the consequences of Sudan's new oil bonanza, accuses the oil companies of deep involvement in the government's war machine against southern civilians.

The companies are protected by government forces and allow their airstrips and roads to be used by the military, while the revenues from oil are funding expansion of the war, the report says.

The report includes dozens of eyewitness accounts from villages where people have been driven out by bombing and ground attacks.

"Oil has brought death," said one Nuer chief, Malony Kolang. "When the pumping began, the war began. Antonovs and helicopter gunships began attacking the villages. All the farms have been destroyed, everything around the oil fields has been destroyed."

Christian Aid's report calls on foreign oil companies - from Canada, Sweden, China, France and Austria - to suspend their operations in Sudan. It also calls for BP and Shell to divest their shares in firms whose parent company is involved.

The report accuses the oil companies of trying to distance themselves from the catastrophe of southern Sudan by claiming they are not responsible for the behaviour of companies in which they are shareholders.

BP said last night it had no intention of disposing of its interests in PetroChina "because there is no reason why we should". The Chinese company, in which BP bought a $578m stake 12 months ago, is not active in Sudan, although its parent group, China National Petroleum Corporation, (CNPC) is.

Toby Odone, a spokesman for BP, insisted there was no operational connection between PetroChina and CNPC. "When PetroChina did its IPO [listing on the US stock market] it assured the Securities & Exchange Commission that it had no interests in Sudan because of the sanctions issue," he explained.

A Shell spokesman said it had no exploration or production interests in Sudan either directly or through its Chinese partner Sinopec. Dave Stuart said: "Although Sinopec did at one stage control interests in Sudan as a result of the restructuring of the Chinese state oil industry, that stake was moved back to CNPC during 1999."

He said Shell would not agree to Christian Aid demands that it withdraw from its shareholding in Sinopec because there was no connection between Sinopec and CNPC.

Rolls Royce admits it provided 34 diesel engines to help pump oil along a 1,000-mile pipeline from Sudan's oil fields to an export terminal on the Red Sea.

Martin Brody, a Rolls Royce spokesman, said the company always took advice from the British government on where it could do business but also had its own criteria. He added: "As a supplier of equipment we always take a responsible view of our actions. We gave a lot of information to Christian Aid and will need to look at its report in more detail."

Glasgow-based Weir Group is also being criticised for a 20m contract to provide equipment for pumping stations on the same pipeline. Emrys Inker, a spokesman for Weir, confirmed its involvement in Sudan but said all the work had been done with the approval of the Department of Trade and Industry and the British government.

Weir had no comment on accusations that it is complicit in human rights abuses, or on speculation that it is involved in a second contract to supply pumps.

The report gives harrowing details of the lives of refugees from the oil areas who have walked hundreds of miles to very precarious areas of southern Sudan, already wracked by decades of civil war.

"All the villages along the road have been burned," said John Wicjial Bayak, a local official driven from a village close to the main road built for access to the oil fields. "You cannot see a single hut. The government doesn't want people anywhere near the oil."

One man described fleeing the bombing with six of his grandchildren to hide in a forest. "We dug a hole for the children and put a blanket on top," he said. "We stayed 20 days in the forest eating wild fruit."

Systematic attacks on the villages began in March 2000, according to village chiefs. One was bombed 10 times before government troops finally burned out the residents.

Across southern Sudan life is on a knife-edge and the government's strategy of banning aid flights to Upper Nile is fanning fears of a new famine tragedy similar to that of 1998, in which tens of thousands died.

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