China pressured on Burma pipeline

Sept 7, 2009 (DVB), Burmese activists today called on China to stop its construction of oil and gas pipelines across Burma that threaten both civilians, their environment, and the security of the companies involved.

This month China is due to begin work on a set of pipelines that will run from the Bay of Bengal across the bredth of Burma to its southern Yunnan province.

Campaigners have warned however that the human and environmental costs could be huge, with intense militarisation along the length of the pipeline and damage to ecosystems likely.

For the companies involved in the project, including South Korea's Daewoo International, advocacy groups have warned that instability along the pipeline could seriously jeopardise business and human security.

Corridor of Power, a report released today by the Shwe Gas Movement (SGM), which is monitoring the project, says that companies involved "face serious financial and security risks".

"A re-ignition of fighting between the regime and ceasefire armies stationed along the pipeline route [and] an unpredictable business environment that could arbitrarily seize property or assets, all threaten investments," says the report.

It also warns of "public relations disasters" resulting from "complicity in human rights abuses and environmental destruction".

Accusations of use of forced labour and displacement have already tarnished the image of the project, which has been fiercely promoted by the Burmese government. Revenues from the sale of natural gas alone are estimated at $US29.2 billion.

According to the report, around 13,200 troops have already been stationed along the route of the pipeline, while a naval base will monitor the deep sea port and oil terminal.

Once completed, China will no longer have to rely on the US-controlled Strait of Malacca, beneath Singapore, for its Middle Eastern oil shipping route. The narrow strait is already heavily congested.

China's thirst for energy has ballooned in the past decade, along with that of neighbouring Thailand, which is thought to receive some 80 percent of its gas from Burma.

Burma ranks tenth in the world for its gas reserve size, yet electricity consumption is five percent of that of China and Thailand, the report says.

Revenues from sale of natural energy are also often not seen by Burmese citizens who suffer regular blackouts. It was fuel shortages that triggered the September 2007 monk-led uprising.

The government is thought to channel 40 to 60 percent of the annual budget into the military, leaving little for a healthcare sector that in 2000 was ranked second worst in the world by the World Health Organisation.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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