Swedes under fire over claims oil firm fuelled Sudan war

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Series Details Vol.7, No.23, 7.6.01, p8
Publication Date 07/06/2001
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Date: 07/06/01

By David Cronin

Human rights activists have lambasted Sweden's EU presidency for not taking action against a Scandinavian oil company accused of aiding Sudanese troops waging the country's civil war.

A coalition of 40 development and peace groups is urging a temporary EU ban on oil investments in the African state after the Khartoum government admitted it was using revenue raised from oil exploration rights for military expenditure.

The activists believe Swedish-based Lundin Oil, which boasts UN Balkans envoy and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt as a board member, helped pay for a government-controlled airstrip.

Militias loyal to the government have also bombed and looted villages on a road built by the company to provide access to its exploitation sites in Southern Sudan. The campaigners say Stockholm must do more to protect civilians who have been uprooted from their homes. "For a country with an international reputation for promoting human rights, the Swedish government's performance [at the helm of the Union] on Sudan is deeply disappointing," said Christian Aid's Mark Curtis. "As EU president with a responsibility for promoting human rights standards on behalf of the European Union, its performance can only be described as deplorable."

But a spokesman for the Swedish government defended its record, contending that the presidency had extended the EU's "critical dialogue" with the official authorities to opposition parties. Stockholm is waiting for a full report on the war - due to be presented to the UN General Assembly this autumn - before deciding how it should address its concerns over oil exploration. "If we are really serious about trying to promote peace and human rights, then it's very important we focus on the long-term issues," the spokesman added.

Erupting in 1983, the Sudanese conflict is the longest-running civil war in Africa, claiming two million lives and leaving four million people homeless. Its death toll has been higher than the combined total killed in fighting in Rwanda, Chechnya and Bosnia over the past decade.

Last year a draft UN paper apportioned much of the blame for the upsurge of violence in Sudan on the exploitation of huge oil reserves in the middle and south of the country. Companies from four EU countries - Britain, France, Sweden and Austria - all operate in the state, while Dutch giant Shell has been accused of fuelling military aircraft used to bomb rebel forces and civilians in the country's south.

Yvonne Heselmans of Pax Christi in the Netherlands criticised the decision to keep a report, which concerned a recent visit by EU ambassadors to some of Sudan's oilfields, confidential. The trip is said to have been stage-managed by Khartoum in order to prevent the delegation from witnessing human rights abuses. "How can you have an objective mission if you only go to government-controlled areas?" she asked.

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