SUDAN Opening new fronts in the oil war 23rd March 2001 Petrodollars are financing Khartoum's diplomacy and its war against the south The Khartoum regime's drive to become a major oil producer is systematically killing Sudan's southern citizens and and destroying their homes. Backed by Western and Asian companies, this is proceeding apace, despite a growing but ineffectual chorus of international condemnation. Khartoum's current dry-season offensive is distinguished from others by an intense focus on oil, as the National Islamic Front government fights to extend the investors' grip on installations and concessions, and its own grip on power. (Though the NIF now calls itself the 'National Congress', with Hassan Abdullah el Turabi's 'Popular National Congress' as the 'opposition', Sudanese still call the whole thing the 'Jebha' (Front), including 'El Turabi's faction', AC Vol 41 No 4). The Western oil companies, if not the Asian ones, are working overtime on their images. Talisman, lead company in the consortium now pumping out some 200,000 barrels per day (bpd), is Canada's largest independent energy supplier. It has hired United States' public relations firm Hill and Knowlton (once champion of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International) and has created a social responsibility unit to demonstrate its good intentions. Now it has launched a newsletter, 'HOPE', which proclaims how Sudan pipeline project staff get human rights training, and parades an upcoming ethical audit. A casual reader might infer that Talisman is more interested in building schools and clinics than in extracting oil in a war zone.