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Sudan Claims Oil Field Attack Failed - 2001-08-08

Sudanese government and oil company officials are dismissing rebel claims of a damaging attack on a major oil-producing facility in southern Sudan. The rebels say they have succeeded in halting oil production at the facility.

The Sudanese People's Liberation Army says the attack Sunday was a great success. SPLA spokesman Samson Kwaje says rebel forces seriously damaged the oil facility, located in the southern city of Heglig, and that it still has not been able to resume oil production.

But a spokesman for the Canadian oil company, Talisman Energy Inc., that runs the operation says the attack failed. The official acknowledges production was suspended at the Heglig facility, but he says this was only done as a precautionary measure.

But rebel spokesman Kwaje says oil production had not resumed by early Wednesday. "Up to now, since Sunday, we have information from our sources that oil is not flowing yet," he said. "They have checked with their sources on the ground, at Heglig, and also in Khartoum itself and they confirm our story that oil has been stopped for a while. This is only the beginning and we are encouraged because now it is vulnerable. The fact that we have gone in and we have caused the damage means that the next attempt will be much more complete. We can assure you we are going to occupy the oil fields and Heglig is our number one target."

This is the first time the rebels have attacked Heglig, though they have often threatened to do so. The rebels say foreign oil companies operating in the region are legitimate military targets because oil exports are fuelling the government's war on the rebels. It is estimated that Khartoum earns $2 million a day from its oil exports, and the rebels say they spend much of this money on arms.

Mr. Kwaje says the oil companies have only themselves to blame if their workers get killed as the SPLA has repeatedly advised them to leave.

"We are talking to the oil companies that for now let the oil exploration stop until we get genuine peace in the country. We have told the oil companies that they should not risk to put civilians in that kind of category. But this is why we are telling them to evacuate. But if they insist to be there, then we are very sorry. They may die but we do not initially target civilians. We are targeting the oil installations," he said.

Human rights groups have also asked foreign oil companies to stop production in Sudan. They charge that the Khartoum government is driving thousands of people out of the oil-rich areas so that more oil fields can be developed.

The SPLA, based in Sudan's Christian and animist south, has been fighting for greater autonomy from the Islamic military regime in the north since 1983. An estimated two million people have died, mostly from war-related famine.