Cablegate: Where Oil and Darfur Intersect - Fighting Reported In
OO RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1232/01 2271411
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 141411Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1609
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001232
DEPT FOR AF/SPG, A/S FRAZER, SE WILLIAMSON
NSC FOR BPITTMAN AND CHUDSON
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV PREL KPKO SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: WHERE OIL AND DARFUR INTERSECT - FIGHTING REPORTED IN
EXPLORATION AREA OF NORTH DARFUR
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Following reports of fighting in North Darfur,
SLA/AW Commander Suleiman Marajan told poloff via satellite phone on
August 14 that there was significant fighting between his forces and
the Sudanese Armed Forces on August 10 and 11 near Wadi Atrun, an
area Marajan claimed oil exploration is now ongoing. Marajan stated
that a force of 270 SAF and militia vehicles killed nine of his
fighters and 80 civilians in the combat. Minni Minnawi confirmed
both rapid SAF deployment to North Darfur and GoS oil interests in
the region, but downplayed reports of fighting between SLA/AW and
SAF. This alleged clash follows July reports announcing the start
of oil exploration in North Darfur's block 12a. If true, this
incident could be one of the first reports of oil fueling the
conflict within the borders of Darfur. END SUMMARY
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2. (SBU) On August 13, international press (relying on exclusively
rebel claims) reported that SAF started a "massive operation" to
destroy rebel positions in North Darfur near the village of Wadi
Atrun in oil block 12a. On August 14, "Al-Sudani" reported that the
SAF spokesman denied these claims, saying "Up to yesterday there
were no battles and all that is being said are lies." The same
article quoted Ahmed Babikir from SLM-Unity saying that the GoS was
"implementing a wide-ranging military plan in Darfur, attacking
areas of Wadi Atrun, Al-Malha and Al-Sayyah."
MARAJAN REPEATS REPORTS
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3. (SBU) On August 14, SLA/AW commander of the region, Suleiman
Marajan confirmed to poloff via satellite phone that approximately
270 GoS vehicles attacked his positions near Wadi Atrun and Rahat.
(Note: Marajan has been active in the conflict since its inception.
Marajan was one of Minnawi's leading Meidob commanders, but was
later imprisoned by Minnawi after he failed to attend the 2005
Haskanita conference where Minnawi was elected the chairman of SLA
in place of Abdul Wahid Nur. End Note.) Marajan said he lost 9 men
in the fighting, and that GoS forces killed an additional 80
civilians in the battle. Marajan stated that the GoS force was a
combined SAF and militia unit.
ALLEGIANCE TO SLA/AW
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4. (SBU) Despite a period of being an independent, Marajan
repeatedly confirmed that he now belongs to the Sudan Liberation
Army led by Abdul Wahid Al-Nur (SLA/AW). He stated that he is in
regular contact with Nur, and Nur's field commanders based in Jebel
Marra. He stated that despite his relative proximity to Minnawi, he
has not had any communication with his former boss.
"OIL IS THE REASON"
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5. (SBU) Marajan said the GoS is attempting to clear the area of
rebels and people to protect its oil interests in the region. He
added there are three large camps of Asian oil workers between Wadi
Atrun and Karab Atom. According to Marajan, the camps have
approximately 300 vehicles, heavy equipment, and hundreds of men.
Marajan was not able to provide the name of the oil company in
charge of the operation.
"GOS SEEKS MILLITARY SOLUTION"
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6. (SBU) Marajan said that this attack is also part of a greater
military offensive by the GoS in Darfur. According to Marajan the
recent visit of the GoS Defense Minister to Darfur was part of the
government's effort to devise a military strategy and coordinate
SAF, intelligence, and the government militias in Darfur (GOS
sources claimed that the visit was to improve security to provide
better humanitarian access, and freely admit that it also meant
targeting nests of bandits and carjackers). "Bashir is now talking
about peace, but he really is going to attack all of Darfur. He
feels like he is tricking the international community," stated
MINNI CONFIRMS GOVERNMENT ACTIVITY AND OIL INTERESTS..
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7. (SBU) On August 14, Senior Presidential Assistant and chairman
of the Sudan Liberation Movement, Minni Minnawi, told poloff by
satellite phone that the GoS continues significant military
deployment in North Darfur, specifically mentioning the cities of
Tine, Kornoi, Um Baro, and Wadi Atrun. (Note: Since June, Minnawi
has been in the field in North Darfur. As of August 11, he was only
several hundred kilometers from Wadi Atrun with many fighters
throughout the entire region. End Note.) Minnawi said that he has
received reports from Darfuri traders and herders leaving the area
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of Wadi Atrun due to a significant GoS build-up in the region.
Minnawi said that the GoS has long been interested in oil
exploration in Darfur, something he urged the GoS to forgo until
Darfur is peaceful and stable.
. . . BUT DOWNPLAYS THE LEVEL OF FIGHTING
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8. (SBU) Despite his acknowledgement of the military buildup and
displacement of people from Wadi Atrun, Minnawi downplayed reports
of fighting. Minnawi stated that SAF recently moved into Wadi Atrun
and took the city without "any fighting." According to Minnawi,
Marajan does not have any fighters, but "just a group of guys who
steal vehicles and money from the trucks." (COMMENT: Minnawi's
dismissive approach to Marajan is not surprising given their
troubled history. END COMMENT.) In addition to moving into
potential oil areas, Minnawi said that the most likely reason for
the SAF deployment was an impending attack on his own position and
troops. "After Williamson's visit, my sources are telling me that
the GoS wants to discover my coordinates and surround me," said
Minnawi. Minnawi also stated that "The GoS is scared of my
relationship with the U.S., and they want to target me."
OIL EXPLORATION ONGOING IN NORTH DARFUR
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9. (SBU) On July 9, the Sudan Tribune reported that seismic work
would begin shortly in Block 12a in North Darfur, calling this "the
first exploration deep into Darfur since conflict erupted in 2003."
The article quotes a representative of one company involved in the
exploration, who reports that SAF forces would soon be deployed to
the region to ensure a secure environment for the oil exploration.
The article also specifically mentions the border station of Karab
Atom, one area of conflict specifically mentioned by Marajan above.
10. (SBU) Norwegian Petroleum Envoy Anders Hannevik told poloff on
August 14 that Block 12a is a "black hole that we have very little
information about." Although he said he knew little about ongoing
exploratory efforts, he did note that conducting seismic studies
would require a very large presence similar to the one Marajan
described. "You cannot do seismic in the dark," said Hannevik,
adding that Marajan's claim of 300 vehicles "would be about right"
for the manpower needed for this important step in exploration.
Hannevik cautioned, however, that he cannot imagine the GoS
conducting exploration in Darfur during this very tense period.
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10. (SBU) Like many reports coming from the most remote and
isolated regions in Darfur, it is difficult to get independent and
trustworthy information regarding this reported fighting (the areas
in question are closer to Libya than to North Darfur's state capital
at El Fasher). Some form of fighting likely took place, but we
suspect that Marajan's report is exaggerated. (Note: Sudan
veteran, OCHA head Mike McDonough describes Suleiman Marajan as "a
notable brigand" and many other observers have also questioned
Marajan's character and notable silence in the last year. End
Note.) What is more significant about this event is that it could
be one of the first reports of oil fueling the conflict in Darfur.
While there have been JEM attacks on oil facilities in neighboring
Kordofan, this appears to be a first within the borders of Darfur.
Darfuris, from rebel leaders such as Khalil Ibrahim to average
citizens on the street, often claim that Darfur has a wealth of
natural resources controlled by the government. Until now, these
leaders have had little proof of these claims. With the possibility
of ongoing exploration in North Darfur, all of this could change,
further irritating an already explosive region. END COMMENT.