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Watchdog says global oil consortium hurting South Sudan

SAM MEDNICK
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Britain South Sudan Watchdog Group

US actor and activist George Clooney speaks at a press conference about South Sudan in London, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The largest multinational oil consortium in South Sudan is "proactively participating in the destruction" of the country, the actor George Clooney and co-founder of The Sentry watchdog group told The Associated Press this week. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — The largest multinational oil consortium in South Sudan is "proactively participating in the destruction" of the country, the actor George Clooney and co-founder of The Sentry watchdog group told The Associated Press this week.

A new report released on Thursday by the Washington-based group that reports on links between corruption and mass atrocities says it found that Dar Petroleum provided direct support to deadly militias. "And it has paid for government officials to live lavishly while the rest of the population suffers the consequences of a brutal civil war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives," Clooney said.

The report explores how a variety of international individuals and businesses are linked to armed conflict, corruption and atrocities during the country's five-year civil war that ended with a peace deal a year ago. The oil consortium is the most prominent example.

South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, and Dar Petroleum is one of the country's most important entities. It is comprised of China's state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, Chinese state-owned Sinopec, the private Egyptian-based firm SSTO and South Sudan's state-owned Nile Petroleum.

While most of the country's oil rigs were shut down or destroyed during the war, the oil consortium continued operating.

Emails shown to the AP by The Sentry show that the South Sudan government directed Dar Petroleum to deliver drums of diesel to the "community Oil Protection Forces," armed groups with close links to the oil industry including members of the Padang militia, known for committing atrocities such as burning villages, targeting civilians and attacking the United Nations protection site in Malakal in 2016.

The report says the petroleum ministry requested 251 barrels of diesel to be delivered to military and militia forces in Upper Nile state in 2014 and 2015.

Dar Petroleum has strong ties to South Sudan's national security apparatus. Its vice president is a major general in the service and the company has used funds earmarked for community development to support the lifestyles of senior politicians, the report said. Last year the consortium agreed to pay more than $686,000 to a hotel in the capital, Juba, to cover bills for the former petroleum minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth.

Some letters collected by The Sentry raised concerns about whether the oil ministry and Dar Petroleum were wrongfully allocating oil revenues earmarked by the state for community development. In one letter dated March 2018, the government authorizes the consortium to use $80,000 from the community development fund to purchase a "white armored V8" vehicle.

Dar Petroleum said it was not able to speak to the media, and CNPC did not respond to a request for comment. South Sudan's oil minister, Awow Daniel Chuang, called the report misleading, saying that "what is being reported is a mere misunderstanding of how the oil companies operate in south Sudan or elsewhere." The Chinese Embassy in South Sudan said that "we have always required companies in South Sudan to operate in compliance with laws and regulations."

One oil expert said the international companies can't be seen as neutral bystanders.

"They respond to pressure from what South Sudan's government dictates and do not miss the opportunity to profit from the risk of engaging in such an unstable climate," said Luke Patey, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies and author of "The New Kings of Crude."

Weak governance and years of conflict have made South Sudan's resources easier to exploit. A U.N. report in April noted a "degree of informality that limits meaningful controls and oversight" of oil revenues.

As South Sudan emerges from years of fighting, some in the international community are pushing for more transparency and accountability.

"It needs to become more profitable to pursue peace here than to pursue war," said Chris Trott, the British ambassador to the country. "We need to ensure that the money that's made from the resources of this country are invested in this country's future."

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