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20 Feb 2006

Rick Westhead, Toronto Star

Dangerous liaison

Recently disclosed memos show that Talisman had a far better understanding than it has ever acknowledged of how its facilities were being used by the Sudan military in its war with the rebels... Talisman chief executive James Buckee went into damage-control mode [in 1999], trying to persuade the Canadian government not to impose sanctions on the company... Yet...Talisman officials knew the company's facilities at Heglig were being used by the Sudanese to refuel planes and helicopters and load them with 500-pound bombs and other armament. In an internal report prepared for Talisman, Mark Reading, the company's security adviser and former British special forces member, wrote..."All the [Talisman employees] see the level of activity concerning the airfield and are genuinely concerned that it makes them a legitimate target... The real issue isn't that, but one of how the news would be received if it got out."... Reading's memos are among the myriad documents that recently have been released in U.S. federal court as part of a personal injuries lawsuit filed against the company... "The reason they used Heglig makes perfect sense," Reading continued. "They would be much closer to the area that they were bombing, so enabling them to carry out more sorties... Reading wrote that villagers called the bombing runs "whispering death" because they could hear the propeller-powered planes but couldn't see them... In a statement on the newly released documents, a company spokesperson told the Star: "...It does not help your readers to understand this complex case to publish excerpts from a few, highly selected documents without context or a chance for rebuttal. This is particularly true when Talisman is unable to comment because U.S. Judge (Denise) Cote has told both parties not to argue this case in the media. Talisman is respecting Judge Cote's direction." In a court document filed July 29, Talisman wrote, "there was no indication in any of the documents or testimony that during the brief period that Antonov bombers used the Government airstrip at Heglig, the Antonovs were being deployed against civilian populations." Rather, Talisman said in the court filing, the company believed the Sudanese military was deploying the armament against rebel forces in the south. [also refers to Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co. (GNPOC)]