In July 1999, the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA)
and Norwegian Peoples Aid, a pro-rebel solidarity group operating
in southern Sudan, alleged that the Sudanese armed forces
had used chemical weapons in attacks on Sudanese rebels in
three places, including Lainya and Kaya, in southern Sudan.
Norwegian People's Aid went so far as to issue a press release
on 2 August headed 'Confirmed Chemical Bombing in Southern
Sudan'. These allegations were reported extensively in the
international media. In August 1999, for example, several
British newspapers repeated them, and the BBC Online Network
published no less than six articles mentioning the allegations,
with headlines such as 'Sudan "Chemical" Attack
on Rebels' and 'Warning on Sudanese "Chemical Attack"'.
The allegations were also subsequently repeated by Baroness
Cox, President of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, in the British
House of Lords on 12 and 13 October, 1999. Cox specifically
claimed that the after effects in these incidents were "compatible"
with symptoms associated with poisoning by arsenical compounds
such as Lewisite. Cox also claimed that there was "cumulative
evidence of the likely use of chemical weapons by the NIF"
and that the Sudanese government were able to "use these
unconventional weapons with impunity". Cox provided the
British government with soil, water and shrapnel samples to
back up her claims.
The Sudanese government categorically denied any such use
of chemical weapons, and immediately agreed to a United Nations
investigation of the claims. This investigation took the form
of an Operation Lifeline Sudan medical team which travelled
to the areas in which it was alleged chemical weapons attacks
took place. A number of samples, including blood and urine
specimens, were taken and sent for analysis to the Centre
for Disease Control (CDC), an independent and world-renowned
laboratory in Atlanta. These tests "indicated no evidence
of exposure to chemicals".
In a letter dated 5 June 2000, the British government revealed
the results of the "very careful analysis" of the
samples provided by Baroness Cox and all other evidence. The
samples had been tested by the British Defence Ministry's
chemical and biological weapons establishment at Porton Down
(CBD). The results showed that the samples provided "bore
no evidence of the CW [Chemical Weapons] agents for which
they had been tested". The British government also pointed
out that in addition to the American tests, further samples
had been tested by the Finnish institute responsible for chemical
weapons verification. These too had been negative. The Government
commented on the "consistency of results from these three
independent sets of analysis".
The text of this British Government letter is appended to
It has to be said that allegations of involvement in weapons
of mass destruction technology are amongst the most serious
that can be levelled at any government. These particular allegations
are unusual in that the United Nations, and others, were able
to scientifically collect samples from the area concerned
and from the people said to have been affected. Usually such
claims are made and there is no way of independently verifying
what has been alleged.
Once again Baroness Cox has been proved wrong with regard
to her claims about Sudan. She has made very serious allegations
against the Sudanese government - allegations that were manifestly
unfounded. This allegation is but one in a series that Baroness
Cox has made which have subsequently been found to be unsupported
by the evidence. Surely it is time that Baroness Cox reconsiders
both her position, and the accuracy of her sources, with regard
to Sudan and ceases to be the over-eager and all too questionable
partisan that she so clearly is on Sudanese issues?
The text of the British Government's Letter to Baroness Cox
Regarding Her Allegations of Chemical Weapons Use in Sudan.
Ministry of Defence,
Whitehall London SW1A 2HB
From Baroness Symons
Minister of State for Defence Procurement
5 June 2000
You wrote to me on 6 October about allegations that chemical
weapons had been used by Sudanese Government forces against
its internal opponents. I know that you have subsequently
pursued the matter in the House of Lords and that Baroness
Scotland has responded to a number of your points. I am sorry
that it has taken so long to reply but, as I am sure you appreciate,
on a question of such sensitivity we needed to carry out very
careful analysis of all the available evidence.
First of all, I would like to assure you that the Government
treats very seriously all allegations that chemical weapons
have been used. As you know, the limited information available
from the reports of the incidents in Sudan last July suggested
that if chemical agents had been used, then they were likely
to have been arsenical "riot control agents", ie
chemicals that produce sensory irritation or short-lived disabling
physical effects. The initial analysis carried out at CBD
Porton of the samples provided by Damien Lewis was therefore
undertaken on the assumption that such agents may have been
involved. Given the lapse of time between the alleged incident
and the collection of the samples, CBD assessed that no intact
trace of such agents would remain. Accordingly, tests were
carried out only to determine the presence of elemental arsenic.
This was found to be present but only in concentrations well
below normal background levels. Mr Lewis was then informed
of these results by CBD.
Although there was no clear evidence indicating the use of
chemical weapons, I concluded that, given the seriousness
of the allegations, further analysis should be carried out
to screen for chemical agents, their environmental degradation
products, and riot-control agents. This has now been completed.
The methods used involved gas and liquid chromatography, combined
with mass spectrometry for chemical agents and riot control
agents, and atomic absorption spectrometry for arsenic. These
techniques are also used in carrying out analysis of samples
to meet the requirements adopted by the Organisation for the
Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). A total of 17 samples
of water, soil, and shrapnel collected from three sites in
the Sudan were analysed for the presence of known chemical
agents, ie the classical nerve agents, mustard, and other
recognised agents, for their environmental degradation products,
and for riot-control agents. They were also screened for the
presence of arsenic.
No intact CW agents, their associated environmental degradation
products, or riot-control agents were identified in any of
the samples. Low levels of arsenic were detected in 15 of
the samples, but, again, only at levels well below expected
natural limits for environmental samples. Conventional TNT
explosive was present in eight of the samples, mainly those
collected from near to the alleged bomb craters or from presumed
bomb fragments. CBD concluded from its analysis that these
samples bore no evidence of the CW agents for which they had
been tested. I enclose a copy of the CBD report.
You may be aware that a separate set of samples taken from
the sites of the alleged CW attacks in the Sudan was tested
independently in the US. The results of these tests also indicated
no evidence of exposure to CW agents. I understand that Mr
Lewis also passed samples to the Finnish institute responsible
for chemical weapons verification ("VERIFIN") and
I am advised that this analysis likewise found evidence of
TNT but none for CW agents. Given the consistency of results
from these three independent sets of analysis, I believe we
must conclude that there is no evidence to substantiate the
allegations that chemical weapons were used in these incidents
in the Sudan.
The Government is informing OPCW and the Sudanese Government
of the results of the CBD analysis. I am also arranging for
a copy of my letter and the results of the CBD's analysis
to be passed on to MR Lewis.
I am copying this letter to Baroness Scotland, Lord McNair,
Viscount Brentford and Lord Ahmed who took part in the debate
on the Sudan in the House of Lords on 13 October.