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     Jun 25, 2010
Sudanese blood spills into Asia
By Ritt Goldstein

Far beyond America's Gulf Coast another oil disaster has struck, but the current damage stems from allegations of possible complicity in "war crimes and crimes against humanity". The activities in question occurred in Sudan between 1997 and 2003, with an oil consortium led by Sweden's Lundin Petroleum at the center of a growing storm with implications potentially impacting Asia's oil interests.

Sweden's coverage of the story has been dominated by questions surrounding what it means for Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a member of Lundin's board from 2000-2006. The possibility of Bildt, Sweden's prime minister from 1991 to 1994, being criminally prosecuted has been widely reported.

On Monday, a decision to launch a formal investigation into the

 

events surrounding Lundin's Sudanese efforts was announced, with Magnus Elving of Sweden's International Prosecution Chamber directing the process.

While refusing media comment on the ongoing investigation, a week ago Elving told Asia Times Online that he had already sought "resources" for the process, and Bildt's office said they had been expecting the investigation for several weeks. A week ago and in a Monday media release, Elving pointed to a recent report by a group of 50 European non-governmental organizations that had worked in Sudan - ECOS (European Coalition on Oil in Sudan - as motivating his action.

The ECOS report, "Unpaid Debt: The Legacy of Lundin, Petronas and OMV in Sudan, 1997-2003", argues that "the home governments of Lundin (Sweden), Petronas (Malaysia) and OMV (Austria) have failed in their international obligations to prevent human-rights violations and international crimes".

Notably, while the report doesn't take aim at Chinese or Indian oil interests, it does cite the involvement of ONGC Videsh Ltd of India and China National Petroleum Company, CNPC, as active in an adjoining area, part of the concession known as the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co (GNPOC). However, the report does present substantive allegations regarding the Lundin Consortium, charging it "may have been complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity".

Events in Sweden began earlier this year with the publication of a book, Business in Oil and Blood by Kerstin Lundell. Prominent Stockholm attorney Sten de Geer sent the work to Sweden's prosecutor general, and in March the activity leading to Monday's investigation announcement began, the prosecutor subsequently making contact with ECOS. De Geer told Asia Times Online that "it is of paramount importance that justice is also done when the suspects are powerful businessmen or politicians in the West".

Bildt's former association with Lundin has now prompted a political atmosphere in Sweden bordering on crisis.

Demonstrating the current political volatility, Sweden's opposition parties voiced unanimous and stark reservations regarding Bildt's ability to continue as foreign minister. Former Social Democratic justice minister Thomas Bodstrom urged Bildt to take a "time-out", also writing that Bildt's conservative Moderate Party ethics rules suggested such action.

Sweden's Left Party foreign affairs spokesman Hans Linde simply demanded Bildt's immediate resignation. And the final opposition party, the Swedish Greens, had one of their two leaders, Peter Eriksson, question if Sweden could realistically allow a foreign minister involved with a question of "genocide".

On Tuesday, in an unusual move, the trans-national Party of European Socialists (PES) called on Bildt, who is a member of a competing political block, to "withdraw for the duration of the investigation". The PES is a significant political group, the largest in the European parliament, with former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen as its leader. However, Bildt dismissed the PES criticism as an "expression of desperation", essentially labeling the action as contrived.

With a national election scheduled for mid-September, passions are running particularly high.

"He's not going to take ‘time-out' ... and he's not going to leave as well," Irena Busic, Bildt's press secretary, told Asia Times Online, highlighting the well-defined battlelines currently drawn. In explaining Bildt's Lundin role regarding Sudan, Busic drew a parallel with Bildt's actions in bringing peace to Bosnia as a UN special envoy, saying that Lundin and "a lot of other companies" were, in fact, those responsible for helping to highlight the difficulties Sudan was then facing.

She stated that Bildt's job at the board of Lundin Oil was to "draw Sudan up to the foreign agenda ... to the world agenda", with his hope being to "bring some kind of peace, or some kind of attention, to Sudan". However, according to a 2003 Human Rights Watch report, "Sudan, Oil and Human Rights", this isn't the first criticism Bildt's Lundin connection has drawn.

According to HRW, the London-based charity Christian Aid charged in March 2001 that "government troops and militias had burned and depopulated the entire length of Lundin's oil road in 2000 in order to make way for Lundin's operations". The revelation caused a Swedish firestorm at the time.

Bildt drew strong criticism from then-Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh. Human Rights Watch quoted her as saying "we expect Swedish companies to respect an ethical code in line with human rights and the environment in which they operate abroad". Human Rights Watch further noted that Lindh had sought to then have the government investigate Lundin's Sudan activities.

ECOS claims its current report has substantive new information over anything that has previously come forward, and the now ongoing criminal investigation does appear to provide comment on that. However, Bildt's press secretary, Busic, takes exception to this, stating, "There's nothing new in that [ECOS] report that hasn't already been investigated."

Prosecutor Elving's investigation press release stated little beyond that it would pursue violations of humanitarian law occurring in Sudan during 1997-2003, and reiterated the influence of the ECOS report.

According to the Swedish attorney representing ECOS, Percy Bratt, "[Under] Swedish law, if there's a suspicion that there has been a crime within the company, the starting point is always at the top ... the board and the managing director." Bratt added that one of ECOS's goals is the establishment of effective "limits for companies working in these types of conflict areas with regimes that are committing human-rights violations".

ECOS states that the Sudanese problems began when the Lundin consortium signed a 1997 agreement with Sudan's government for the exploitation of oil in an area in which the Sudanese government did not have complete control. The group charges that the subsequent governmental efforts to secure the oil fields sparked conflict where the civilian population was forcibly displaced and severely victimized.

Their report cites documentation of numerous atrocities, including the targeting of civilians, destruction of shelters, pillage, killing, rape, abduction and torture. It further alleges the Sudanese government used "artillery, ground troops, helicopter gunships and high-altitude bombers against the civilian population". ECOS estimates that 12,000 people died and 160,000 were forcibly displaced through such efforts.

Said Mahmoudi, professor of International Law at Stockholm University, saw Sweden's ongoing investigation as revolving on "a question of directly, or indirectly, planning a serious crime, or even participating in committing that crime". Mahmoudi added, "These are very serious accusations."

He noted that under the law addressing potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, guilt can only exist where an act of "commission", not "omission", occurs. Only in cases of genocide can an act of omission bring culpability, he said, but he believed that, in a way, an ECOS victory had already taken place.

"The good thing has already come out of it," Mahmoudi said. "I think the very important thing is not whether Lundin Oil has the law on its side or not, the fact is that they should feel ashamed - they have an ethical and moral obligation not to sleep there, or stand there, and look at it. Nobody believes if they say they didn't know what was happening there [in Sudan]," further emphasizing the social responsibility "not to make money at any price".

In the 2003 HRW report on Sudan, a section of it was titled "Lundin: Willfully Blind To Devastation in Block 5A", the same geographic locale that ECOS cites.

ECOS calls on the governments of Sweden, Austria and Malaysia to act, with ECOS's coordinator, Egbert Wesselink, observing, "You have this strange incoherence in the policies of many countries where one part of the foreign ministry is promoting respect for human rights and another part of the foreign ministry is promoting international trade and investment, and they don't seem to know each other."

Wesselink said, "We think it's possible to get a political process; the governments of Malaysia, Austria and Sweden have a special responsibility." It was vital, he said, for a successful Sudanese future that all those involved in the conflict reconcile; Africa's system of justice typically focused on "undoing the injustice to the victims".

On Monday, when Sweden's investigation was officially opened, Wesselink's only comment for Asia Times Online was, "I hope this will come to benefit the victims of the war."

Lundin had no comment, but vice president for legal affairs Jeffrey Fountain pointed to an open letter on the company website rejecting "all the allegations and inferences of wrongdoing attributed to Lundin Petroleum" by the ECOS report. Stockholm's Malaysian Embassy had no one available to provide comment, and an e-mail query to Petronas was unanswered at press time.

Sudan is scheduled to have a referendum next year regarding southern Sudan's effective independence. To ensure national stability, "one big issue remains to be resolved, and that's reconciliation - the national reconciliation, but also the reconciliation with the ‘outside world'," Wesselink said.

A reading of recent news articles regarding Sudan readily reveals concerns regarding a potential renewal of hostilities. Today, the Sudanese oil industry is dominated by Asian firms.

Highlighting Asian interests in Sudanese oil, a 2007 Human Rights Watch communication regarding Sudan's Darfur issue noted:
Sudan's oil production is currently concentrated in four main projects by foreign investors. The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), comprised of the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), Malaysia's Petronas, the Oil Natural Gas Company of India, and the Sudan National Petroleum Company (Sudapet) produces the bulk of the country's oil.

Petrodar, a consortium of CNPC, Petronas and Sudapet, are developing two blocks that could produce as much as 300,000 barrels per day. The White Nile Petroleum Company (Petronas, ONGC, Sudapet) is developing another project that could produce about 80,000 barrels a day. And the last project is one run by CNPC in Block 6 that produces about 40,000 barrels per day.
Ritt Goldstein is an investigative political journalist whose work has appeared widely, including in the US's Christian Science Monitor, Spain's El Mundo, Austria's Wiener Zeitung and Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, as well as with other significant members of the global media.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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