Eric Reeves, an English teacher at Smith College in Massachusetts, has since 1999 set himself up as a long-distance commentator on events within the Sudanese oil fields, stating that he was opposed to the Sudanese oil project and those foreign oil companies involved within it. Dr. Reeves’ credibility as a commentator and researcher has already been extensively questioned in “The Return of the ‘Ugly American’: Eric Reeves and Sudan”.(1)
Supposedly at the heart of his concern has been the alleged displacement of civilians from areas in or around the Sudanese oil fields. Amongst other things Dr Reeves has claimed that the Sudanese government has displaced populations around the oil fields, “orchestrating a ferocious scorched-earth policy in the area of the oil fields and pipelines.” (2) He stated, for example, in July 1999, that “[h]uge swaths of land around the oil fields and pipelines are presently cleared of all human life and sustenance”. (3) While these claims have been discredited and contradicted by detailed satellite analysis of the areas in question, which showed migration to and not movement from the oil fields, and by comments made by groups such as the World Food Programme (4), the extent of Reeves’ double standards with regard to allegations of civilian displacement within Sudan is now also all too clear
Despite his stated concern about displaced civilians, Reeves has ignored the 60,000 civilians displaced by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebel offensive in Bahr al-Ghazal in May-June 2001. This offensive has resulted in the massive displacement of southern Sudanese civilians. On 8 June, the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the offensive had led to the displacement of at least 20,000 civilians. The Sudanese Catholic Information Office reported that most activities within the region had been halted by the offensive: “locations from Tonj northwards remain no go areas forcing both church and humanitarian agencies to suspend their flights to the region.” (5) By 11 June, the United Nations estimated that 30,000 civilians had been displaced within Bahr al-Ghazal. (6) Two days later, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Rumbek, Bishop Mazzolari, reported that just under 60,000 civilians had been displaced by the offensive, and that these civilians were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.(7) This offensive followed the announcement that the United States was to provide the Sudanese rebels with thirteen million dollars worth of logistical assistance.(8)
What is also evident is that this is not the first time that Dr Reeves has studiously ignored irrefutable evidence of the forced displacement of civilians by the SPLA rebel movement. In March 2001, the Catholic Comboni missionaries stated that SPLA forces displaced 15,000 civilians when they attacked and destroyed the town of Nyal in westerner Upper Nile in late February. (9) In August 2000 Reuters also reported that:
“An influx of displaced people into Bentiu, the capital of Unity state in war-torn southern Sudan, has greatly strained humanitarian and food aid in the town…World Food Programme (WFP) official Makena Walker told Reuters about 20,000 people displaced by recent fighting had reached Bentiu in the last three weeks.”
That is to say the refugees were fleeing into Government-controlled areas. Reuters also stated that Sulaf al-Din Salih, a government humanitarian aid commissioner, had said that displaced people were arriving in Bentiu at a rate of 150 to 200 per day, with the total number now running at 40,000. (10) In July 2000, as yet another example of civilian displacement, Bishop Mazzolari of Rumbek stated that thousands of civilians were fleeing the southern town of Wau. Bishop Mazzolari said that this massive human exodus was triggered by fears of a possible rebel attack. (11)
All these deliberate displacements of civilians were ignored by Dr. Reeves, committed as he seemingly is to presenting one-sided and distorted images of events within Sudan. Dr Reeves has also claimed that Sudanese oil revenues were fuelling the civil war. While this claim has not been supported by any credible evidence, in June 2001 the United States publicly announced that it had given 13 million dollars to the Sudanese rebels. On this too Reeves is silent.
What price credibility?
1. ‘The Return of the “Ugly American”: Eric Reeves and Sudan’,
European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, November 2000.
2. ‘Investors Fuel Humanitarian Crisis in Sudan’, ‘The Catholic New
Times’, Toronto, 31 October 1999.
3. Eric Reeves, ‘Silence on Sudan’, ‘The Chicago Tribune’, 29 July
4. See, for example, ‘Interview – Sudan Says Oil Drilling Causes No
Mass Displacement’ New Article by Reuters on 14 February 2001 at
11:53:19 EST; ‘Thousands More Flee Sudan’s Oil-Rich War Zone – WFP’, News Article by Reuters on 23 February 2001 at 12:57:32 EST;’Talisman Energy Says Study Disproves Sudan Allegations’, Dow Jones Newswire, 18 April 2001 and ‘Talisman Fights Back on Sudan Displacement Claims Releases Aerial Images’, ‘The Financial Post’, (Canada), 19 April 2001.
5. Civilians Flee Town Under Siege’, News Article by Sudanese
Catholic Information Office, Nairobi, 8 June 2001.
6. ‘Tens of Thousands Displaced by Bahr al-Ghazal Fighting’, U.N.
Integrated Regional Information Network, 11 June 2001.
7. ‘Fighting in Sudan’s Bahr el Ghazal Leaves 57,000 Displaced:
Bishop’, News Article by AFP on 13 June 2001.
8. See, ‘U.S. House Backs Efforts to Aid Sudan’, News Article by
Reuters on 13 June 2001 and ‘Sudanese Rebels to Receive Dlrs 3 Million in Assistance’, News Article by Associated Press on 25 May 2001.
9. ‘Sudan Rebels Raze Town, Comboni Mission’, News Article by
Catholic World News on 15 March 2001. ‘Refugee Flow Strains Relief in Sudan’s Unity State’, News Article by Reuters on 7 August 2000 at 14:26:20 EST (-5 GMT).
11 ‘Thousands Flee Sudanese Town Fearing Rebel Attack’, News
Article by Agence France Presse on 7 July 2000.
The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council sent this media contribution to Media Monitors Network (MMN)