BP denies MEP's Colombia claims

Dan Atkinson

The Guardian, 23rd October '96

BP HAS hit back at allegations due to be aired in the European Parliament in Strasbourg tomorrow suggesting its Colombian operation is guilty of environmental vandalism and collusion with the security forces. Labour MEP Richard Howitt has also promised to name BP's "inside man" planted in the Bogota government.

The energy company has denied Mr Howitt's claims, which are based on a human rights report said to have been commissioned by President Ernesto Samper but never published. BP sources said the report consisted largely of unchecked and unanalysed statements made to researchers who had asked loaded questions.

However, Mr Howitt defended the report and added that he had done his own detective work in Colombia during a fact-finding visit last month.

He said: "I will be presenting up-to-date evidence that confirms all the allegations in the report, including key admissions by BP officials." Mr Howitt said he had eye-witness accounts of much of what was alleged.

At the heart of the dispute are two huge oil-fields operated by BP on behalf of a consortium, half of whose shares are held by the Colombian government. The Cusiana and Cupiagua fields together produce 180,000 barrels a day, a figure that may rise to half a million barrels by the turn of the century. Both the fields and more especially, the pipeline BP is building to the Caribbean coast present juicy targets for the ELN guerrilla forces.

BP and partners Total of France and Triton of the US have paid to fund army protection from 150 officers and 500 men; BP's share of the bill will be $8 million (5 million) over three years. Mr Howitt is alleging BP's involvement with the security forces goes far beyond this special regiment, saying the company passed video tapes, photographs and intelligence reports about strikers and protesters to the army.

The MEP said the report also claimed BP's activities in the area have caused "grave damage" to a protected forest and resulted in significant social disruption.

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