Oil Could Turn Tables in Sudan War ; Clinton Is Set to OK Aid to South's Rebels, Offsetting Northern Pipeline Profits

Article excerpt

Sudan's ability to extract 150,000 barrels of oil a day might persuade the Clinton administration to provide food aid to rebels in the South.

Sudan's new oil wealth, first unearthed at the end of August, could shift the balance of Africa's longest, and most violent civil conflict. Jemera Rone, a Sudan expert with Human Rights Watch, says the scales might tip in favor of the Islamic government in Khartoum.

"Oil revenues will allow the government to buy more arms, more planes with which to bomb rebel positions in the South," says Ms. Rone.

A victory by the Islamic North over the Sudanese People's Liberation Army rebels would likely turn the already Islamic state into one with an more fundamentalist bent. Human rights activists say it would also leave the United States in the uncomfortable position of having done little to stop the cruel war.

"If the North wins, they will not have won an ordinary war," says Eric Reeves of Smith College in Northampton, Mass. Professor Reeves, who has written extensively on the conflict in Sudan, explains, "They will have won a genocidal war, a war defined by the bombing of clearly marked civilian hospitals ... by the use of famine as a weapon."

Susan Rice, who drives US policy toward Africa for the State Department, advocates food aid. She asserts that the need to contain Khartoum's fundamentalism should override the usual neutrality of humanitarian assistance.

Perhaps the worst accusation against Sudanese authorities is that of deliberately starving over a million Dinka tribesmen - the backbone of the SPLA - in the great famine of 1989, and again 10 years later. As many as a quarter million Dinka are estimated to have lost their lives in the spring of 1998.

But a number of US politicians oppose the idea of favoring a combatant in an armed conflict. Julia Tafts, assistant secretary of state for refugees and humanitarian assistance, is one of them. …