"This government has always waged war against civilians," said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch in Washington, D. C. Aided by an influx of newly purchased helicopters...
LEAL, Sudan — “This government has always waged war against civilians,” said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch in Washington, D.C.
Aided by an influx of newly purchased helicopters, a government attack in Ruweng County in October 2001 displaced 80,000 people, according to a Human Rights Watch report. The next year, government troops again used helicopters, killing 24 people during an attack on an emergency food-distribution center.
The Nuer people who now live in Leal were at the center of the contested area. Their former town, Nhialdiu, was wiped off the map Feb. 26, 2002, in an attack confirmed by survivors and rebel commanders.
Mortar shells landed at dawn. Then came helicopter gunships, directing fire at the huts. Antonov airplanes dropped heavy bombs. Roughly 7,000 government troops, mixed with pro-government militias, then swept through with rifles and more than 20 tanks.
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“Any human being who could not get away was killed, even children,” said the chief of Leal, Tunguar Kuiyguong, who lost three of his 10 children that day.
About 3,000 of the town’s 10,000 inhabitants died, he said, and every house was burned to the ground. The soldiers made off with 10,000 head of cattle, which are the fundamental currency of Nuer life — the payment for brides and the source of meat, milk and pride.
“The Chinese want to drill for oil, that is why we were pushed out,” said Rusthal Yackok, who was blinded, his wife and six children killed. “Now, I have no family, no cows. I have nothing. My life is totally destroyed.”
Even as people fled, walking more than seven miles to settle on a treeless plain, the bombs continued to rain down and the helicopter gunships buzzed in pursuit. “We would see the helicopters and try to hide in the grasses,” said David Majang. People stripped off their colorful robes to try to blend in with the scrub.
Today, people in Leal try to coax crops from unproductive soil. They line up at wells drilled by an aid organization and await the next shipment of food aid.
“Oil has brought devastation to our lives,” said Stephen Mayang, a father of three whose legs were badly hurt during the attack.
China National Petroleum refused repeated requests over the past 10 months for an in-person interview to discuss its operations in Sudan.
Last week, in a telephone call, a spokesman said the company bears no responsibility for the war. “We do our own business,” he said. “Nothing else.”
But field reports produced by human-rights groups describe a connection between the people extracting the oil and those waging the war. Some of the helicopter gunships used in the attacks on civilians are Chinese-made, according to Lam Akol, who was Sudan’s transportation minister from 1998 to 2002 and is now a rebel commander.
The helicopters, he said, have frequently been based at airstrips maintained by the oil companies — a statement consistent with the findings of Canada-based World Vision when it interviewed survivors of attacks and defecting government soldiers in 2001.
“The Chinese have every reason not to lose these oil fields, and that is why they are committed to fighting the war by supplying the Sudan government the wherewithal,” Akol said.
A recent report in the state-controlled China Business News quotes a Chinese foreign-affairs official as saying Beijing has asked Khartoum to “send troops” to areas in which Chinese companies operate.