Sudan uses missiles against rebels

First evidence of Khartoum's weapons store caught on video

Julie Flint in Nairobi and Julian Borger in Washington (Guardian)

Tuesday August 14, 2001

Less than two years after Sudan began pumping oil, earning more than $1m (715,000) a day in new revenue, the government has acquired, and is using, surface-to-surface missiles in its war against the southern-led rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army.

Soon after oil began flowing in August 1999, President Omar Bashir said Sudan would use its oil revenue to manufacture weapons including missiles. But there has never been any evidence, until now, that Khartoum possesses such weapons. Their acquisition has enormous implications for the war in the south as the government attempts to conquer more and more oil-rich areas for exploration by foreign oil companies.

Proof that the government has missiles comes in videotapes recovered from a government cameraman who accompanied an offensive into SPLA-controlled southern Blue Nile province at the end of May. He died on the battlefield, reportedly along with hundreds of government soldiers, after being pinned down under fire.

The video footage, seen exclusively by the Guardian, shows a fat, winged missile with a needle-sharp nose mounted on a six-wheel truck at the headquarters of the government's 17th division in Dindro, south of the Ingessena hills. As soldiers cry "God is great", the missile is elevated to an angle of 45 degrees and fired. It explodes with a deafening roar, leaving a fiery trail high in the sky.

The missile has not yet been identified. Military sources say blackmarket arms dealers have been attempting to sell Sudanese factions Soviet-made 300mm Smerch rockets at $300,000 (215,000) a piece. But the Dindro missile is not part of a multiple rocket system like the Smerch. Some SPLA officials believe it could be part of a shipment of missiles Khartoum reportedly acquired from Kazakhstan in January.

John Garang, SPLA commander-in-chief, told the Guardian that the government force fired eight missiles before trying to advance on the town of Kurmuk on the Ethiopian border. All fell harmlessly in the bush. But they travelled at least 40 miles and made craters 22ft deep.

Steve Hind, director of Church Ecumenical Action in Sudan, an international church consortium working in southern Blue Nile, said CEAS was "extremely worried" by the introduction of powerful new weapons into a war that has already claimed more than two million lives. He said CEAS, which is part-funded by Christian Aid, recently doubled its staff in southern Blue Nile.

Jemera Rone, Human Rights Watch's Sudan researcher, said: "The government's army has not shown, so far, any ability or desire to target military objectives precisely using the less powerful weapons it already has. More powerful weapons in the government's hands threaten to cause more civilian casualties and devastation."

A Western analyst shown the film was astonished at the quantity of weapons deployed. "Resources are going into the Sudanese military," he said. "This is a very well-equipped army with a ton of ammunition."

On the missiles, he said: "These are more like terror weapons against civilian populations than effective weapons in a conventional war. But the effect of a missile like this falling on a town would be to clear all aid missions out. No one in the field calculates a risk from a missile."

Southern Sudan is awash with relief workers - most of them working under the umbrella of the United Nations' Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS). Although OLS's mandate extends to all war-affected areas of Sudan, the government bans it from southern Blue Nile and the Nuba mountains - two predominantly Muslim areas of northern Sudan that are resisting attempts to impose an Arab-Islamic culture on a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country.

Despite a damning body of evidence from independent human rights investigators, neither the UN nor OLS has made any public comment about the scorched-earth war waged by the government to exploit the oil of the South.

While no British companies are pumping oil in Sudan, Britain supplies much of the hardware which enables oil to flow. Rolls-Royce provides engines for generators and pumping stations as well as "operational and maintenance support" to the pipeline. Weir Pumps provides pumping stations and Angus Fire fire-fighting equipment.

Two security companies, Rapport and Stirling Security, are working in the oilfields for foreign companies.

In the last month, the SPLA has stepped up its own war against oil. Dr Garang said SPLA forces fired "at least seven" Grad rockets into the oil operations centre at Heglig last weekend. He said it was the first time Grads had been used in the area. Canada's Talisman Energy has admitted that pumping was briefly suspended.

Dr Garang said the SPLA had identified three targets: Heglig, the pipeline and the oil terminal south of Port Sudan.

"There is no way they can protect all three," he said.

Bush can't decide which line to take

Buffeted by an unlikely partnership of the Christian right and the black lobby on one side, with Wall Street and the state department on the other, the Bush administration has yet to decide on a coherent Sudan policy.

But news that Khartoum is using oil money to buy new and heavier weapons is likely to put Washington on the spot.

The administration has ordered a "full policy review" on Sudan, but there is a fundamental division between the state department - which backs a policy of "critical engagement" with Khartoum to nudge it towards the negotiating table - and political advisers in the White House who are pressing for a much tougher approach, entrenching the Sudanese government's pariah status.

Ronald Reagan's Africa specialist, Chester Crocker, was offered the job of special envoy to Sudan, but he turned down the post in June when he realised the extent of disarray over the issue within the administration. Christian conservatives have the ear of the president, who has spoken out on Khartoum's human rights violations.

But two months ago, when rightwing Republicans and the Congressional Black Caucus joined forces in the House of Representatives to pass the Sudan Peace Act which would ban foreign investors from raising US capital for oil development in Sudan, the financial lobby and the state department were able to persuade the president not to endorse it.

It is now in legislative limbo between the House and Senate.