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August 1998 
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MER - Washington - 24 August:

Millions of African children will suffer, probably at least thousands will die, as a result of the American bombing of one of the most modern and productive pharmaceutical plants in Africa. But then the Americans don't seem to care much about any of this; their policies and sanctions have literally killed off more than 5% of the Iraqi population this decade; and their depleted uranium weapons have brought a wave of cancer that will go on for a very long time to come.

There is no evidence so far to confirm American claims about the factory in Khartoum. But even if there were, justifing this bombing on anything but "might makes right" grounds would be difficult. There are hundreds of such factories in the U.S. and Europe; and huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Based on American reasoning the Arabs would be fully justified to bomb Dimona -- Israel's nuclear weapons factory (built, incidentally with French and American help).

What's next? More bombing of Libya and Iraq. Or maybe Iran or Syria this time?

When the Americans began their ever-closer "strategic" connection with Israel; and when, also in the Reagan years, the Americans adopted Israeli slogans and policies regarding "Islamic fundamentalism" and "terrorism" and "radicalism"; experts warned we were on a slippery slope. And now the chickens are coming home to roost.

OK U.N. and Arab League. What you going to do?



By David Hirst in Khartoum
The Observer - Sunday, August 23, 1998

Whatever Al Shifa Pharmaceuticals Industries Company did produce - precursors for the VX nerve gas, according to the United States, or 50 per cent of Sudan's drug requirements, according to its own staff - it was very precisely targeted indeed.

The projectiles that smashed into it at about 7.30 local time on Thursday evening went unerringly to the heart of the plant, and nothing else - not even the Sweets and Sesame factory so physically close that, at first sight it looks like an integral part.

Al Shifa certainly did not try to hide its existence. Signs in plenty direct you to it long before you get there. But to find it with such pinpoint accuracy from the air was no small achievement.

The Khartoum North district in which it is located is an amorphous, dismal suburbia, semi-residential, semi-industrial without obvious landmarks; steeped in dust for most of the year, its largely unpaved roads and alleyways ankle-deep in the rainy season's mud.

The factory's core is flattened. The roof is almost on the ground. Here and there smoke still rises from the debris; the still burning chemicals give it a mildy unpleasant odour. There is no sign amid the wreckage of anything sinister. Of course, for the layman, there probably wouldn't be anyway.

But there is no sign of anyone trying to hide anything either. Access is easy. Much of Khartoum seems to have come to take a look. Women in long bright dresses, and even high heels, pick their way through the mud and jump across roadside gutters to get a closer view. Most stare in what seems to be disbelieving silence.

"I still can't quite believe it's gone," said Dr Alamaddin Shibli, the factory's export manager. "I still have to knock my head into realising that when I come here I'm coming to a complete ruin." He pointed to his office on the third floor of the administrative building. "On Thursday, I had gone home earlier than I usually do."

He was not the only lucky one. "If the Americans had chosen Wednesday evening, instead of Thursday, it would have been a disaster." About 300 people worked in the factory, he said, but on Wednesday evening a shift of 50 had been working on a special assignment of veterinary products.

These were destined for Iraq, commissioned by the United Nations under its food-for-oil programme. "I suppose the Americans would say that one Arab producer of chemical weapons was supplying them to another - Saddam Hussein."

He says the factory was one of the biggest and best of its kind in Africa. It was privately owned, and had changed hands since it went into production two years ago; the new owner was a Sudanese living in Saudi Arabia. It had been partly financed by the Eastern and Southern African Preferential Trade Association, a thoroughly respectable body.

It produced the full range of antibiotics, medicines for malaria, rheumatism, tuberculosis and diabetes, you name it. Samples of its products lay around the reception area: Shifatryp, Shifamol, and in a plastic bag with the picture of an eagle on it, Shifacef proclaimed its Continued Efficiency Over the Years.

Apart from the administration block, only two parts of the factory were not unrecognisably demolished. One was the water-cooling works, which Shibli called the most modern in Africa, with its equipment from Italy and the United States. The other was the laboratory - for him, the most important loss. It is very badly damaged, but amid the rubble rows of phials remained discernibly intact.

The Sudanese government, which the US accuses of sponsoring international terrorism, seems to think it now has all the evidence it needs to incriminate the US. It wants a United Nations team to investigate.

"This is what we will show them," Shibli said. "In those bottles are the reagents that will prove what we really produced here - and it wasn't chemical weapons."



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