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Sudan, Oil Co. Deny Rebel Claims

October 22, 2001

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ The Sudanese government and oil company officials on Monday denied rebel claims that guerrillas had attacked oil fields in southern Sudan and caused heavy losses to government forces guarding them.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army claimed Sunday to have killed 429 government troops in fighting over the previous eight days. The rebels said they attacked oil production areas, destroying bulldozers and other equipment.

``It’s a big lie by the SPLA. It’s a compete fabrication,″ Abdelrahman Hamza, director of the government spokesman’s office, said by telephone from the capital, Khartoum. ``Everything is as usual and peaceful in that (oil) area.″

Hamza said there was a ``very minor skirmish″ on Friday morning near Bentiu, an oil town 465 miles southwest of Khartoum, but that the rebels were repulsed. He gave no other details about the fighting.

The Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company _ a consortium of Canadian, Chinese, Malaysian and Sudanese companies _ began producing oil from a concession near Bentiu in August 1999.

Ralph Capeling, the Khartoum general manager of Talisman, a Canadian company with a 25-percent stake in the consortium, said he knew of no recent attacks in oil areas.

``We have been progressively increasing oil production,″ Capeling told The Associated Press. ``It’s going fine; we are having no difficulties with production.″

The SPLA took up arms in 1983 against the Sudanese government in the predominantly Arab and Muslim north in an attempt to obtain autonomy for the south, where most of the people follow traditional African beliefs.

The rebels and international human rights groups accuse the Sudanese government of forcing tens of thousands of villagers to flee the oil region and of using oil revenue to pursue the war.

Since the oil consortium began operating, Sudan is estimated to earn $500 million per year from oil.

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