A November 1999 Norwegian television
documentary, entitled 'Weapons Smuggling in Sudan', has
highlighted the role played by some aid agencies in logistically
and politically perpetuating the Sudanese civil war. The
documentary clearl y outlined the actions of Norwegian People's
Aid (NPA) in supplying the Sudan People's Liberation Army
(SPLA) with weapons in the course of the Sudanese civil
war in the 1990s.
Norwegian People's Aid had
became involved in Sudan in 1986, and almost immediately
began providing support to the SPLA, and its 'humanitarian'
wing, the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Association. There
had always been speculation as to whether Norwegian People's
Aid was involved in the supply of war material to the southern
rebels, and this documentary confirmed that NPA had for
several years organised an air-bridge for the supply of
weapons to battle zones within Sudan under the supervision
of its Nairobi office. One of the NPA pilots involved in
the gun running, Svein Kristiansen, stated, that his plane
had landed at SPLA bases with some 2.5 tonnes of weapons.
It was stated that between 80-100 tonnes
of arms were carried to the Nuba mountains and elsewhere
in NPA-controlled airplanes supposedly carrying humanitarian
Another Norwegian People's Aid pilot, interviewed
by the documentary makers, related how when he began working
for NPA he believed that he would be flying NPA humanitarian
assistance into the Nuba mountains. He then realised that
NPA was also transporting weapons, including land-mines,
The purpose was to fly aid, blankets, medicine, food,
clothing etc. from Lokichokio up to the Nuba mountains to
the people there that didn't have anything. That was the
main purpose that we served there. That was also my understanding
of what we would be doing when I arrived in Lokichokio.
And to my surprise we ended up flying more than just aid.
We did some other trips where we took off from Lokichokio
empty, and we picked up crates, boxes, and so forth, of
ammunition, weapons, and other things, and flew it up to
the Nuba mountains so that they could fight the war they
had going up there. They were mostly ammunitions, and arms,
also some anti-aircraft weapons. And I found out later that
there was also land-mines in quite a few of the boxes.
Pressed by the interviewer on how he could
be sure the cargo contained land-mines, the pilot stated
that there would be papers stating what was in the cargo
and how much everything weighed. The crew would check the
manifest as well as the cargo to make sure it was the same
weight in order to know how heavy the plane would be when
it left the ground. The pilot also stated that out of curiosity
he had opened up several of the boxes and had "looked
in them and saw what was there".
The callousness shown by Norwegian People's
Aid in cold-bloodedly supplying land-mines to war zones
in Sudan must be measured against NPA's official position
with regard to land-mines and their use, stating that they
are a "deadly legacy killing and maiming innocents
everyday". NPA is also ostensibly committed to advocacy
work with regard to land-mines, and, for example, is a member
of the Coordinating Committee of the International Campaign
to ban Landmines.
The above-mentioned Norwegian documentary
also provided evidence that Norwegian People's Aid's involvement
in actively assisting and facilitating the SPLA's military
activities dated back to the 1980s. In September 1989, for
example, the Norwegian Red Cross offered the International
Committee of the Red Cross a large barge funded by the Norwegian
government. The barge, with a cargo capacity of up to 60
tons, arrived in July 1990 and was soon in place on the
Nile. It had been intended to use this barge for the delivery
of food aid by river. NPA was allowed to take responsibility
for the operation of the barge. The documentary also showed
that the SPLA had clearly used the river barge for military
purposes, including the transport of hundreds of SPLA soldiers
in order for them to engage in fighting elsewhere - all
this with the active assistance of NPA.
Norwegian People's Aid's activities in
Sudan had led to the Norwegian government commissioning
COWI, an independent consultancy, to investigate NPA's use
of the considerable funds it had received from the Norwegian
government. The report, entitled Evaluation of Norwegian
Humanitarian Assistance to the Sudan, documented that
Norwegian and similar relief funds were being used to support
SPLA soldiers, and thus prolonging the conflict. The report
stated, for example, that by the early 1990s Norwegian People's
[B]egan to adopt more closely the aims of the SPLA and
developed from 1992 a growing field presence.
The report went on to state:
NPA's intervention is that of a solidarity group. It
has taken a clear side in the war. It supports the causes
of SPLA/M and its humanitarian wing SRRA. NPA's solidarity
approach means that in practice the activities of NPA are
closely related to the political and military strategies
of the rebel movement.
The report placed on record that Norwegian
People's Aid's humanitarian activities were said to "support
the political and military struggle of the SPLA/M".
With regard to whether the NPA was directly supplying the
SPLA with food, the report stated that:
Many sources, including some within the NPA.confirm that
food relief has also been used to feed SPLA troops. A 1995
USAID audit, for example, revealed that in early 1995 some
200 metric tonnes of sorghum, valued at about US $100,000,
and under NPA control, was diverted to feed SPLA soldiers.
Documentation in this example relating
to the diversion of aid had been "fraudulently stamped"
by SRRA officials. The report spoke of "other cases
showing insufficient control". The report stated that:
[T]he food relief supplied by NPA has been extremely
important to.the SPLA which managed to sustain its position
as a strong rebel movment.
The Danish media further reported that
Norwegian People's Aid had allowed the SPLA to sell emergency
aid in order to purchase weapons of war. Norwegian aid funds
were also diverted to buy the SPLA food, houses and cars,
and to was pay for the schooling of the children of SPLA
The report also made it clear that Norwegian
People's Aid may have increased the level of tension in
parts of southern Sudan.
The support of NPA to the higher levels of the SPLA has
reinforced the tendency of SPLA to rely on its own external
diplomacy to obtain critical resources, such as food, rather
than seeking the support of the indigenous populations of
the areas where it operates. There has been a marked lack
of interface between the SPLA's higher ranks and the "traditional"
chiefs and governance structures of the tribes, particularly
the Equatorian tribes.
The report also examined the NPA's position
with regard to working towards a peaceful solution to the
Sudanese civil war. It was stated that the NPA did not see:
the reduction of violence in the Sudan as [its] main
objective. It was not considered appropriate for a "solidarity".organisation
like NPA.The cause of the SPLA, as expressed by John Garang
and his leadership group, is just according to the NPA.
The prevention of conflict, in this context, is entirely
subordinated to the pursuit of partisan advantages.
The report stated that:
The position of NPA in supplying resources to one party
in the conflict has been quite exceptional. The agency has
repeatedly stepped beyond the boundaries of what is generally
considered humanitarian practice in its support to the rebel
Norwegian People's Aid has also served
as propagandists for the SPLA. The Norwegian government
report stated that:
The publicity, which NPA has been able to supply in favour
of the Movement, has.been significant. NPA briefed journalists
and guided them in the field.
This was said to have been "decisive"
on several occasions. One clear example of NPA echoing SPLA
propaganda was its July 1999 claim that Sudanese government
forces had used chemical weapons in southern Sudan. On 17
October the United Nations revealed that tests conducted
by the laboratories of the Center for Disease Control in
Atlanta on medical samples taken by Operation Lifeline Sudan
members in the areas cited by Norwegian People's Aid "indicated
no evidence of exposure to chemicals". NPA staffers
have also been involved in providing what can only be described
as similarly questionable briefings to visiting United States
legislators in 1998.
Norwegian People's Aid is supporting the
SPLA, an organisation described by the New York Times,
no friend of the Sudanese government, as "brutal and
predatory" and "an occupying army, killing, raping
and pillaging". SPLA leader John Garang was described
by the same newspaper as a "pre-eminent war criminal".
In December 1999, Human Rights Watch stated that:
The SPLA has a history of gross abuses of human rights
and has not made any effort to establish accountability.
Its abuses today remain serious.
Human Rights Watch has pointed to summary
executions, arbitrary arrests and food aid theft from civilians
in famine areas by the SPLA. Established and respected humanitarian
organisations such as CARE, Save the Children, World Vision,
Church World Service and the American Refugee Committee
have jointly stated that the SPLA is guilty of "the
most serious human rights abuses". The BBC has reported
growing friction in SPLA-controlled areas of southern Sudan,
specifically within Didinga areas: "The Didinga have
accused the SPLA of becoming an army of occupation in the
These are the very areas in which Norwegian
People's Aid is active. It is obvious that NPA and the money
which supports it, is helping to artificially sustain the
SPLA in these and other areas of "occupation".
Without the support of external forces such as Norwegian
People's Aid, the SPLA would have had to negotiate an end
to a stalemated conflict.
It is clear that Norwegian People's Aid
serves not merely as a propaganda adjunct to the SPLA, but
also as an organisation willingly involved in the supply
of weapons and war material to southern rebels. It nutures
a deeply unpleasant organisation, and helps perpetuate Sudan's
The activities of NPA have done a great disservice to all
genuine humanitarian organisations active in Sudan. Their
activities have highlighted the need for aid agencies to operate
within the United Nations-managed Operation Lifeline Sudan.
NPA's military aid to the SPLA has made the Sudanese government
all the more suspicious of those groups that do not.