An Oily Deal

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"There are no redeeming features to Talisman's presence in Sudan," said former UNICEF ambassador Stephen Lewis. "There is absolutely no question that oil is fueling the [civil] war."

As Canada's largest oil company, Talisman likes to style its presence in Sudan as "constructive engagement." Talisman has commissioned reports on Corporate Responsibility to justify its investments there.

"Although a company must operate according to local laws," Talisman staff Jacqueline Sheppard and Reg Manhas wrote in Oil & Gas Weekly last November, "Talisman also works to uphold Canadian principles and international standards."

Other organizations do not agree. ''The civilian population living in oil fields and surrounding areas has been deliberately targeted for massive human rights abuses," Amnesty International reported in May 2000. According to AI, treatment includes "forced displacement, aerial bombardments, strafing villages from helicopter gunships, unlawful killings, torture including rape and abduction.''

The UK Christian Aid organization issued a similar report in March 2001, adding that, "Since large-scale production began two years ago, oil has moved the war into a new league. Across the oil-rich regions of Sudan, the government is pursuing a 'scorched earth' policy to clear the land of civilians and to make way for the exploration and exploitation of oil by foreign oil companies."

Since 1956, the civil war in Sudan has killed 2-million people and displaced more than four million within the country. An Africa-watcher for more than forty years, Stephen Lewis said that Sudan "is worse than Angola, worse than Sierra Leone." Due to the war's duration, he said, "it is worse, even, than Rwanda."

And yet - there was a point in 1998 when, "the war was at a stalemate." Then came the discovery of significant amounts of oil. With increased activity by the giant consortium - in which Talisman owns a 25 per cent share (but provides most of the technical expertise) - atrocities have mounted: mass murder, forcible displacement, famine and slavery. There is substantial evidence of government ties with mercenaries who force captured children and women to work as sex slaves or child soldiers.

Stephen Lewis called for Canada to pass legislation, similar to the boycott against South Africa during the apartheid era, requiring Talisman to sell or suspend operations in Sudan until blatant human rights violations end. Talisman, he said, "is tarnishing Canada's reputation."

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