CAIRO (Reuters) - Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley expressed concern on Monday, May 7, at reports that Sudan's government could be using an airfield of the Canadian oil company Talisman Energy to launch offensive operations against rebels.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity International, have reported bombing raids by the Sudanese military on civilians by helicopter gunships operating from the oil consortium's airstrips.
They have also reported mass displacement of people by the Sudanese military to make way for oil development.
"If airfields are being used for offensive action against civilians, then that would be a serious breach of the norms of human rights and something of which we would strongly disapprove," said Manley, on the first leg of a regional tour.
Deletions of key sections to a Canadian foreign ministry document on the situation of Talisman in Sudan released for public information sparked fresh controversy among Canadian and foreign activists for disinvestment.
"Both Canada's view and that of the company, Talisman, is that the airfield ought not to be used for offensive military purposes and the document indicates that Talisman has raised its concern with the government of the Sudan that that not be the case, and Canada certainly shares that concern," Manley said.
Talisman, one of Canada's biggest oil producers, has found itself at the centre of controversy over its possible role in an 18-year-old civil war.
Talisman owns a 25-percent stake in the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co., which runs a lucrative 200,000 barrel a day oil concession in Unity state in southern Sudan.
The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has been fighting since 1983 to win more autonomy for the largely animist and Christian south from the mainly Muslim, Arabic-speaking north in a war which has cost an estimated two million lives.
Talisman has said it has seen no evidence of large numbers of villagers being displaced, and that the army uses the government-owned runways to defend against rebel attacks.
ATTACKS PART OF "SCORCHED EARTH WARFARE"
U.S. Smith College professor Eric Reeves said in a press release that deletions to the ministry report included this line:
"For the past month, there have been two Hind gunships stationed at Unity Field, and interlocutors told me they had been flying sorties almost every day, taking on large amounts of ammunition, and unloading none..."
Reeves, who sent his press release by e-mail to Reuters in Cairo, said Talisman facilities "are directly implicated in ongoing attacks on Sudanese civilians as part of the Khartoum regime's campaign of scorched-earth warfare".
"This campaign is designed to provide security for the oil concession areas of Talisman Energy," he said.
Manley said on Thursday he was worried that revenues from the Sudan oilfield in which Talisman has a stake could be fuelling the war. But he indicated Ottawa would not consider imposing sanctions on the company.
By Rachel Noeman
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)