SUDAN: China accused of supporting Sudan rights abuse

A leading opponent of a Chinese-financed dam in Sudan accused Beijing on Friday of fueling widespread human rights abuses, as Khartoum moved to relocate 70,000 villagers to make way for the project.

Beijing was directly involved in Khartoum's plundering of land and water resources at the Merowe Dam project on the Nile river in northern Sudan, Ali Askouri told journalists.

"This project violates the basic right of our community," said Askouri, a representative of communities affected by the Merowe Dam project.

"The Chinese only deal with officials, they don't sit down with local communities ... this is a very dangerous approach and is (leading to the) open destruction of lands and the plundering of African society."

In April last year, unidentified militiamen attacked a community meeting in the town of Amri that was discussing the dam, killing three opponents of the project and injuring up to 40, said Askouri, who heads the association Hamdab Dam Affected People.

"This is a way of terrorising people to get out of the area," he said.

"We are witnessing continued human rights violations, from detentions to unlawful arrests, abuse and persecution ... six community leaders are currently detained for unclear reasons."

One of the main complaints of dam opponents is that villagers are being relocated to desert areas and not being allowed to rebuild their homes near water, he said.

The 1.8-billion-dollar Merowe Dam on the upper reaches of the Nile river is the largest hydropower project currently under construction in Africa and will have 1,250 megawatts of installed capacity when completed at the end of 2008.

China's Export-Import Bank was financing the dam to the tune of 540 million dollars, while French engineering firm Alstom had a 300-million-dollar contract for generators and German firm Lahmeyer International was providing technical expertise, Askouri said.

Askouri fingered all three enterprises as complicit in the ongoing abuse.

He also said about 5,000 Chinese workers were building the dam and were being kept separate from local communities by a 600-strong Sudanese security force that some people believe were behind last year's shootings.

China has denied that it ignores the plight of locals in undertaking major projects in Africa, but pledged enhanced cooperation on environmental aspects of its projects on the continent.

"China attaches great importance to the local people's livelihood, takes the possible environmental effects seriously and applies strict environment evaluations and standards," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told journalists on Thursday when asked about the Merowe Dam project.

"The completion of this project will promote the development of the social and economic development of Sudan and improve the livelihood of the local people."

But an independent report entitled "China's role in financing Africa's infrastructure," by the US-based International Rivers Network, backed up the accusations put forward by Askouri and villagers being displaced by the dam.

"There has been no official environmental impact assessment of the Merowe Dam and this was a reason that some other governments like Canada turned down an offer to finance it," said Peter Bosshard, policy director of the group and author of the report.

"China's Exim Bank does not have adequate anti-corruption mechanisms and does not meet international standards on assessing the environmental impact of the project," he said.

Besides Sudan, China was involved in dam projects in Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia, he said.

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