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Leaders of Sudan’s Merowe Dam community escape assassination

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Feb 14, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — Two prominent leaders of the Manasir, one of
three groups being displaced by the Merowe Dam in Sudan, have narrowly
escaped an assassination attempt by security personnel employed by the
Merowe Dam Implementation Unit on 10th February 2007. The Merowe Dam,
funded by the China Ex-Im Bank, is currently under construction on the
River Nile, 350 kilometres north of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

The attempted killings took place in Abu Hamad town in Nile State.
Husain Ali Zaidan (a member of the Executive Committee of the Manasir)
and Gasim Allha Abadallah Zaidan (Head of Manasir Association, Khartoum North) were taking part in a peaceful protest during the visit of the Chief Executive of the Dam Implementation Unit to the town when shots were fired at them by dam security personnel.

According to eye-witness accounts, Colonel Adil Awad, head of the dam
security unit, repeatedly fired at the two Manasir leaders, whom the dam
authorities apparently targeted in the belief that they had organized
the protest.

The two leaders were not hurt. However, following the incident, scuffles
broke out and at least one car belonging to the National Conference
Party was set alight.

The Manasir are the largest tribal group affected by the Merowe project,
which will displace a minimum of 55,000 people: the two other affected
groups are the Hamadab and the Amri.

The dam authorities plan to resettle the Manasir at Al Fidha, some 45
kilometres from the River Nile in the Nubian Desert. The Manasir,
however, have repeatedly stated that they will not move from their
lands. In June 2006, the Governor of Nile State, responding to concerns
over the plight of the affected communities, reached an agreement with
the Manasir, under which the Manasir would not be moved to Al Fidha but
would be allowed to continue living on their land around the proposed
reservoir. The agreement was backed by a series of Presidential Decrees.

Despite the June Agreement, the dam authorities have pressed ahead with
construction work at Al Fidha. The Chief Executive of the Dam
Implementation Unit was visiting Abu Hamad to inaugurate the
resettlement project. The Manasir were holding a peaceful protest to
express their opposition to being forcibly displaced to the desert .

The protesters demanded that the Government of Nile State honour its
commitments under the June 2006 agreement with the Manasir. According to
the leaders of the affected communities, the agreement stipulates that
no work in Al Fidah project should start before the completion of the
local resettlement projects around the dam’s reservoir. The protesters
maintained that the inauguration of Al Fidah represented a blatant
violation of the June agreement.

The Merowe Dam project has been marred by gross human rights violations.
Since its start in 2003, a number of community leaders have been
repeatedly subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention. In September
2003, dam security forces used live bullets to disperse a peaceful
protest organized by the Hamadab people. In April 2006, the dam
security forces fired without warning on a peaceful gathering of Amri
affected communities in school courtyard, killing three and injuring 47
others.

Merowe dam on the fourth cataracts of the River Nile is being
implemented by Chinese and European contractors. Major contracts have
been awarded to three European companies: Germany’s Lahmeyer
International (project management), France’s Alstom (hydroelectric
equipment), and Switzerland’s ABB (transmission). The Lahmeyer contract
is worth $34 million, Alstom’s $300 million and ABB’s $60 million.

(ST)

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