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Originally published Monday, June 21, 2010 at 7:51 AM

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Swedish probe regarding rights report on Sudan

A Swedish prosecutor opened an investigation on Monday after a human rights report alleged that Swedish, Austrian and Malaysian oil companies may have been complicit in war crimes committed by security forces in Sudan from 1997 to 2003.

Associated Press Writer

STOCKHOLM —

A Swedish prosecutor opened an investigation on Monday after a human rights report alleged that Swedish, Austrian and Malaysian oil companies may have been complicit in war crimes committed by security forces in Sudan from 1997 to 2003.

"There are grounds to investigate whether the consortium provided material support to Sudanese security agencies that were involved in gross human rights abuses," said the report by the activist group the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan.

From 1983 to 2005, Sudan was torn apart by a civil war between the Muslim-dominated north and Christian south. A separate conflict in Darfur began in 2003. Thousands of people were killed and nearly 200,000 displaced.

The June 8 human rights report alleges that the Sweden's Lundin Oil AB and three other oil companies helped exacerbate the war in southern Sudan by signing an oil exploration deal with the Sudanese government for an area the regime didn't fully control.

Lundin was the operator of a consortium of companies exploring site Block 5A, including Malaysia's Petronas Carigali Overseas, OMV (Sudan) Exploration GmbH of Austria, and the Sudanese state-owned oil company Sudapet Ltd.

The report said the deal "set off a vicious war for control over the oil fields in the area" that included the murder and torture of civilians, arson, looting, the rape of women and the abduction of children. It said the attackers were Sudan's armed forces and local groups allied to the government or its main opponent, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army.

"Nonetheless, the evidence presented in this report calls into question the role played by the oil industry in these events," the Coalition said. It said the international oil companies "may have been complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity."

The report said that "throughout the war in Block 5A the consortium worked alongside the perpetrators of international crimes. The consortium's infrastructure enabled the commission of crimes by others."

It also said the consortium should have been aware of the abuses committed by the armed groups that partly provided for the oil companies' security needs. However, the oil companies continued to work with Sudan's government, its agencies and its army, the report said.

The European Coalition on Oil in Sudan, which is based in the Netherlands, urged the governments of Sweden, Austria and Malaysia to investigate whether the consortium "contributed to violations of human rights, exacerbated war, and allegedly contributed to the commission of international crimes."

On Monday, Swedish prosecutor Magnus Elving announced that he has launched an investigation to determine whether any Swedish citizens should be held responsible for human rights violations that occurred in Sudan between 1997 and 2003.

He said the probe is partly based on the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan report.

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"There is reason to assume that crimes have been committed and that there could be a Swedish connection to such crimes," Elvin said in a statement. He declined to provide any other details about the investigation.

A spokeswoman for Lundin Oil did not immediately answer an e-mail on Monday seeking comment about the probe. But the company has previously denied breaching international law in Sudan.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a member of Lundin's governing board in 2000-2006, told reporters in Stockholm on Monday he was not aware of Lundin Oil causing any problems in Sudan.

"I think we actually played a small role in raising awareness for the need of a peace process," Bildt told a news conference.

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