Was a Swedish Firm Complicit in Sudan's War?

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Malcolm Linton / Liaison / Getty Images

Sudan's 1983-2003 civil war was fanned in part by rival factions' efforts to control the country's rich oil fields.

BP is not the only oil company in trouble these days. A report by an NGO that accuses Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish-owned company based in Geneva, of being complicit in war crimes committed in Sudan has led a public prosecutor in Sweden to open an investigation into whether any of Lundin's Swedish employees broke the law.

"The purpose of the inquiry is to investigate whether there are individuals with ties to Sweden who are suspected of involvement in crime," Swedish prosecutor Magnus Elving said in a statement released on June 21. The investigation, he said, was triggered by a report published on June 8 by a Netherlands-based NGO, the European Coalition on Oil in the Sudan (ECOS), that suggests that the Lundin consortium's decision to explore and eventually extract oil from a concession in southern Sudan known as Block 5A "set off a vicious war for control" in the area. Claiming that Lundin knew or should have known of the repercussions of its actions, the ECOS report also accuses the company of contributing material that would be used in the war and of working with security forces responsible for many crimes — from widespread displacement to mass rape — committed during the civil war. Lundin denies the allegations.

"It's gratifying that something is being done in Sweden to finally look into these allegations," says ECOS spokesperson Kathelijne Schenkel. "There are big clues to what was going on in Sudan, and for the last 10 years we've been saying, Okay, the home government of these companies should be looking into what happened there." Thus far, Schenkel adds, neither of the home countries for Lundin's partners in Sudan — Malaysia, home of Petronas, or Austria, home of OMV — has opened investigations.

The 1983-2003 Sudanese Civil War, in which the ethnically Arab, Muslim government of Sudan battled with non-Arab animist populations in the south, was fanned in part by rival factions' efforts to control the country's rich oil fields. In the Block 5A area alone, an estimated 12,000 people were killed or died of starvation and 160,000 were forcibly displaced from an original population of 240,000. According to a 2003 Human Rights Watch report, none of that area's displacements occurred until 1998 — a year after Lundin started oil exploration there.

That coincidence is one of the things that ECOS would like to see investigated. "We're not saying that Lundin intended to cause these crimes," says Schenkel. "We're trying to show that there's no way they could not have known that [their exploration] was going to exacerbate the war."

Lundin is also accused by ECOS of building roads and bridges that, while ostensibly constructed to access installations, enabled the Sudanese army to conduct attacks. And ECOS also raises questions about whether the company hired security forces it knew were implicated in the government's campaign against its citizens. "It appears again and again in the U.N. reports," says journalist Kirsten Lundell, who has written a book, Blood Oil, about Lundin's activities in Sudan and Ethiopia. "They relied for their own security on the army and local militia who had previously been involved in war crimes."

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