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Rights activists say oil worsening Sudan conflict

Rights activists say oil worsening Sudan conflict

Human rights activists turned up the heat on Monday against Talisman Energy Inc. , releasing what they said was stark evidence its oil venture in Sudan was fueling the Islamist government's protracted civil war against the country's southern people.

One day before Talisman's annual meeting, an event sure to attract protests over the company's involvement in Sudan, activists and church relief groups charged human rights abuses were escalating with oil production in the impoverished country. They renewed their calls for oil development to stop until peace is achieved.

Talisman, one of Canada's biggest oil companies and a 25-percent owner of the Sudan oil project, said all sides should stop laying blame and work to end the 18-year conflict that has caused the oil producer a firestorm of controversy and depressed its stock price.

Human rights groups have charged that Christian and tribal civilians in the south are being displaced by government troops to make way for oil development as part of the war that has been estimated to have claimed two million lives.

At a news conference on Monday, members of the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa, the Taskforce on the Churches and Corporate Responsibility and Christian Solidarity International gave first-hand accounts of recent visits, which they said proved increasing human rights abuses.

Georgette Gagnon, a human rights lawyer and member of Canadian envoy John Harker's much-publicized fact-finding mission to Sudan in late 1999, said a recent trip to the region proved to her that attacks on civilians had far from ceased a year after Canada decided on a policy of "constructive engagement" rather than sanctions.

"Defecting soldiers from the government of Sudan army base in Heglig and victims of gunship attacks testified to us that gunships fly regular sorties from Heglig (the oil project's base) to attack civilian settlements in a continuing campaign to clear and secure territory for oil development," she said.

INFLUENCE ON GOVERNMENT LIMITED

Talisman has maintained its presence was bringing badly needed economic wealth, and it has funded several health, education and development programs. But in its recent "Corporate Social Responsibility" report it conceded its influence on the Sudan government was limited.

"Fighting in Sudan is tragic, and it is occurring across southern Sudan, not just near oil fields," Talisman spokesman Dave Mann said. "The main issue here is that this is a country at war and people should be looking at constructive ways to end the war, rather than finger-pointing."

The Inter-Church Coalition on Africa released an internal Canadian government document it said raised concerns Ottawa was aware that Sudan's army still used the venture's Heglig airstrip for offensive purposes despite the company's pledge that it was working to end the practice.

Talisman had not seen the document, Mann said.

"If there is credible information, we'd like to see it, and they should be providing us and the government of Canada - everybody - with copies of anything that's reliable, because we are in the area and we don't see the same things they're seeing, so there's some inconsistency somewhere," he said.

Another group, the Taskforce on Churches and Corporate Responsibility, said they would pick up at Tuesday's annual meeting where they left off last year in asking chief executive Jim Buckee to defend Talisman's actions.

Task force representative Joy Kennedy said Talisman's responsibility report, which outlines its activities in trying to ease the conflict, lacked any hard information about whether the oil development was worsening the situation.

"The report does indeed provide considerable detail about worthwhile good works which would be exemplary, and which under other circumstances we mind commend were it not for the fact that the revenues being provided to the governing military dictatorship ... totally negates their value," Kennedy said.


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