South Africa investigates alleged mercenary activities in Sudan

Feb 12, 2002 01:00 AM

The South African government is investigating the alleged mercenary activities of it's citizens in strife-torn Sudan. It has also banned a state-owned petroleum company from seeking oil concessions in the north African country. An official in the South African department of foreign affairs told that the National Conventional Arms Controlling Committee (NCACC), chaired by South African Minister of Education Kader Asmal, had launched a formal investigation into the alleged activities of former Executive Outcomes mercenaries, operating as NFD, in Sudan.
The official said: "The matter is under official investigation, it's quite concerning to us. Although South Africa is not at the moment involved in peace talks we will assume the chairmanship of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) in June and we will become involved. The president (Thabo Mbeki) has said on several occasions that we must get that (the Sudanese conflict) resolved. "It's being taken very seriously, it's embarrassing for our government. We have a Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1998 which, if the allegations are true, they (NFD) are contravening. If so, they will be prosecuted."

In a recent statement the department of foreign affairs said the Act makes it illegal for South Africans to "offer to render any foreign military assistance to any state or organ of state, group of persons or other entity or person unless he or she has been granted authorisation to offer such assistance by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee."
The South African department of foreign affairs notes that: "South Africa as a firm supporter of the... peace process (as espoused by the agreed upon Declaration of Principles signed by the Government of Sudan and the [rebel] Southern People's Liberation Movement/Army in 1994), is exploring possible ways to assist in the search for a comprehensive negotiated peace settlement."
As such the government has moved to avoid the embarrassment and mistrust that would accompany the involvement of its citizens in alleged mercenary activity in Sudan. It has also moved to prevent a state-owned company from becoming involved with oil extraction in the south of the country.

Sudan has been at war with itself for 19 years. The conflict pits a northern government that is mainly "Arab" and Muslim, against a southern insurgency that is largely "black" and non-Muslim. The SPLM/A say they are fighting for the political and economic rights of all of Sudan's marginalized people, and against Khartoum's radical Islamist agenda. But increasingly analysts point out that the conflict is also about the control of oil and other natural resources. Some 2 million people have died as a result of the war.
The latest report by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on Sudan said: "Populations in the south and transitional areas continue to be adversely affected by forced displacements due to the continued fighting, raiding, and (government) aerial bombings. Since 1999, oil drilling and exploration, as well as piping crude oil to the Red Sea for export, has further increased displacement of the affected populations in the Nuba Mountains and western Upper Nile."

The CEO of Petro, the state-owned company that late last year had been pursuing oil concessions in Sudan, told that his company was no longer interested in any business venture with Khartoum. Petro CEO Mpumelelo Tshume said: "The government directive is quite clear that we don't do business in Sudan. I am aware that last year, before my time (appointment), my guys had looked at the possibility (of oil concessions in Sudan) but after the directive from the ministry of minerals and energy we are definitely not looking at Sudan."
Tshume said also that "whilst there are business opportunities for us we are quite alive to the political challenges that face the country (Sudan)." He did not rule out the future exploration of business involvement in oil-rich Sudan, should the political situation improve. "If it could be stabilised in such a way that we can do normal business that will be welcomed," Tshume said.

Late last year, the respected London-based publication Africa Confidential reported that former Executive Outcomes members had formed a company called NFD that was contracted by the Sudanese government, on the recommendation of Libya, to help it protect oil fields in southern Sudan.
A former director of EO (Executive Outcomes) told that the contract was widely known in "military circles" in South Africa and involved training Sudanese special forces officers in counter-insurgency operations to guard the oil fields. He described the firm involved as "the rump" of EO. "Those of us in the company who made enough money are out of it, those who didn't are still in the game," he added. EO was formally wound up in December 1998.
Sandline International, a United Kingdom private military company which had a relationship with Executive Outcomes, told that NFD was likely formed around the time Executive Outcomes folded. "We think that NFD was formed around 1998," said Sandline's Michael Grunberg. Sandline, however, "are not in contact with the company".

Source: UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
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