By Frank Mulder
9 June 2010, Utrecht, Netherlands - The entry of a Swedish-led oil consortium into southern Sudan in 1997 triggered civil war and crimes against humanity, claims a European coalition of aid agencies.
The European Coalition on Oil in Sudan (ECOS) has called on the Swedish, Austrian and Malaysian governments to investigate into the possible complicity of the consortium in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
When the Swedish company Lundin Oil formed a consortium with Petronas Carigali Overseas from Malaysia, OMV (Sudan) Exploration from Austria and Sudapet from Sudan in 1997, they signed a contract with Khartoum to drill for oil in Block 5A in Unity State, southern Sudan.
At this time, however, the area was not fully under government control. This set off a spiral of violence, according to a new report by ECOS, called 'Unpaid Debt’, that covers the period until 2003.
Although the actual perpetrators were government forces and armed groups allied to government forces or their opponents, their purpose was to clear the ground for the oil companies.
"The oil exploration played a crucial role in the atrocities," Egbert Wesselink, coordinator of ECOS, told IPS.
Based on comprehensive evidence, Wesselink’s report estimates that 12,000 people were killed or died from hunger or war-related diseases. Many were raped and tortured, half a million cattle was lost and almost 200,000 people were violently displaced.
"The companies should have been aware of the abuses, but they continued to work with the government and its army,’’ Wesselink said.
Wesselink now calls on the respective governments to investigate whether the companies were complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by others.
"We specifically bring this case to the Swedish and Austrian governments, as these have acknowledged their commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan," said Wesselink. This agreement created the right to compensation for injustices resulting from oil exploitation. "This promise remains unfulfilled to date."
"First they started with an aerial bombardment, which lasted several days," recalled Rev. James Koung Ninrew, general secretary of the peace council in the region. The inhabitants of his town, Koch, in Unity State, died or fled. "Secondly, ground troops came to check the situation, killing the remaining population and setting the villages on fire. Finally they declared the area safe and the oil companies came in."
The consortium was not directly involved in the atrocities, Ninrew explained to IPS.
"But it was the consortium that demanded a safe area for its operations,'' Ninrew said. ''Moreover, without the contracts the government wouldn't have had money to buy gunships and ammunition. As soon as the troops secured the area, they moved to the next, systematically, and the companies followed, until the whole area of Block 5A was brought under control. The companies could see the villages still burning."
For the complete article, please see IPS.