Sudanese file suit against Canadian oil group
By Edward Alden
Friday, March 22, 2002
Talisman Energy, the Canadian oil company operating in war-torn Sudan, asked the Khartoum government in 1999 to remove villagers from the vicinity of its oil properties, according to what is claimed to be a Sudanese government document cited in a lawsuit filed against the company.
The directive, which ordered the armed forces to "conduct cleaning up operations" in all villages in the area, is dated May 7 1999, two days before the Khartoum regime launched one of the largest military offensives of the brutal 20-year civil war.
The document will be considered by a
Human rights groups, as well as investigations by the Canadian government and United Nations missions, have said oil drilling in Sudan by foreign companies is exacerbating a war that has already claimed about 2m lives, mostly from war- related famine. Government troops and militia forces have destroyed villages and displaced about 200,000 people in the western upper
Talisman has denied any complicity with the actions by government forces fighting the rebels, and points to its long record in bringing wells, hospitals and electricity to the region. The company, which was given a copy of the document this week by plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said its lawyers were still trying to determine its source and authenticity. But Barry Nelson, a Talisman spokesman, said: "We can emphatically say that the suggestions in the alleged memo run contrary to everything that Talisman practices and believes in
The controversial document, labelled "secret" and "very urgent", tells a different story, however. The message, sent from
It said that to "ensure the security and wellbeing of employees and company property", the army would undertake cleaning up operations in every village from Heglig to Pariang. It further said that "it has been decided to eliminate Heglig village and the Unity state in Toor", both in the vicinity of the oil fields.
Two days after the order was issued, government forces launched a new offensive in the region using bombing raids, helicopter gunships and troops supported by armoured personnel carriers. The two-month campaign resulted in the destruction of many villages, including Toor, and led to a 50 per cent decline in population in the area, according to a Canadian government investigation in 2000.
Since the opening in 1999 of a 1,600-mile pipeline connecting
The lawsuit charges that Talisman entered into a "joint strategy" with the regime in
Talisman has consistently refused to release any details of its security agreements with the
The company has said, however, that it faces serious security threats from rebel forces in the area that consider the oil installations a legitimate target in their fight against the
Talisman has been under strong pressure from human rights groups to divest its 25 per cent stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, the foreign consortium exploiting the oil fields.
Talisman has said it is prepared to sell its