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RIGHT THING FOR THE WRONG REASONS



Published: Fri, June 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Toronto Globe and Mail: There are plenty of good reasons for Talisman Energy to stop operating in Sudan, so it's ironic that the Canadian company may be forced to pull out for one of the worst reasons to come along yet.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to prevent companies that are operating in the oil and gas sector in Sudan -- including Talisman -- from selling their shares in the United States. That means Talisman would no longer be allowed to list on the New York Stock Exchange, a blow the company says it could not afford.

The bill, which still faces hurdles to pass through the Senate, could become the latest bullying tool for the U.S. government to force its foreign policy on companies outside its borders. If it passes, the precedent will send a chill through any foreign firms raising money on U.S. stock exchanges.

And while it may be admirable that the United States cares about the war-ravaged people of southern Sudan, the motivations behind the legislation are typically mixed.

Sudan was nearly forgotten in Washington until George W. Bush's election, and has jumped to the front burner now because the evangelical right is pressing Mr. Bush to help rebels in southern Sudan because many of the southerners are Christians, fighting the Islamic government of Khartoum.

Peace conference: Meanwhile, Sudan's former democratically elected prime minister, who was overthrown by a military junta a decade ago, has been making the rounds in Washington, asking the U.S. to broker a peace conference. His intervention has helped push the issue onto Washington's agenda, and the new U.S. legislation is an especially convenient response. No U.S. companies are drilling in Sudan.

More than two million people have died in the 18-year war, most of them from famine caused by dislocation. The appalling government of Sudan has faced protests from every imaginable human-rights group. Those groups accuse it of all forms of atrocity, including forcibly evicting thousands of people from their homes to permit oil drilling and permitting people to be kidnapped into slavery.

Talisman, which owns 25 percent of the largest Sudanese oil project, has become a key target of protesters, although there's no evidence it is involved in human-rights abuses. The company argues its investment helps by providing jobs and charitable services. Nonetheless, the oil revenue has fuelled the war, caused much hardship and brought terrible publicity to Talisman. Certainly the U.S. Congress would be overstepping its jurisdiction by punishing foreign companies in Sudan. And certainly Talisman's withdrawal would not stop the war. But it would stop Talisman from being part of the mess, and would end an indefensible partnership with an abusive government. That makes it a worthy move, whatever the U.S. actions.




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