South Africa Helping Prolong Sudanese War, Bishops Say

Soekor Oil Deal Would Fuel the Fighting, Conference Warns

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ROME, JULY 20, 2001 ( South Africa, a country that long struggled with apartheid, may be helping to prolong a genocidal war in another African nation: Sudan.

A publicly owned South African oil company is negotiating with the Khartoum government to expand its business activities there, a move that the Church believes will aggravate Sudan´s long-running civil war.

Soekor, the oil firm, is now in an advanced stage of talks with Sudan, the South African Episcopal Conference reported today.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, conference president, warned: «We are seriously concerned by the fact that, through the negotiation of new concessions in areas that are yet to be ´cleansed´ of communities, considered by the Khartoum government as expendable, South Africa will contribute to the escalation of the conflict in Sudan.»

«This is completely contrary to the stated intention of our government to promote justice, democracy and peace in that country,» the archbishop of Durban said.

The note said the oil firm´s project to clear land for exploitation is directly linked to the «cleansing» war waged by Khartoum´s Islamic government. Income from oil helps the Sudanese army pay for weapons and hence keep alive the conflict, the bishops said.

«Petroleum is the key to the war in Sudan,» Cardinal Napier said. «During our visits to Sudan, we saw with our own eyes the results of the forced movement and displacement of tens of thousand of southern Sudanese, in order to construct oil fields and pipelines free from attacks. Thousands of others have been killed or have died of hunger and diseases.»

He added: «We are convinced that oil is one of the major causes of the war and a means used by Khartoum to increase its military capacity.»

Soekor´s concession pacts with Khartoum will also undermine the South African government´s role of mediation, begun some time ago, the bishops´ conference said. Oil companies in general have been urged by concerned international organizations to suspend their activities in Sudan in order to assist the peace process.

Cardinal Napier appealed to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, South African Minister of Mining and Energy, to intervene and put an end to this support of one side of the Sudanese conflict, accused of committing serious violations of human rights.

«Given our experience under the apartheid regime, we should be the last to support a government that is at war with its own people,» the cardinal said.

Osman Ismail, Sudan´s Foreign Minister, is to lead a Khartoum governmental delegation to South Africa next week. According to reports, the object of the visit is to sign cooperation agreements with South Africa. The bishops´ conference said it intends to meet with the delegation.

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