French minister slams 'useless' sanctions

Oct 8, 2009 (DVB), Remarks made today by the French foreign minister that sanctions on Burma are "useless" have been met with anger by campaigners who say he is acting to preserve French economic interests in the country.

Bernard Kouchner was quoted today by AFP as saying that "sanctions are useless and everyone recognises that. Should we not then show a greater openness to this government?"

Speaking to DVB, a member of the Paris-based Info Birmanie campaign group, Isabelle Dubois, said that Kouchner has always taken a critical stance on sanctions, largely because of French oil giant Total's operations in Burma.

"Because of Total's investment in the country, France has always tried not to compromise its interests in the country even if it’s at the expense of human rights and the Burmese people," he said.

Total is France's largest company, and one of the world's biggest oil multinationals.

Its investments in Burma, particularly in the controversial Yadana gas pipeline, are said to be worth around $US500 million a year.

Kouchner has long denied that Total's operations in Burma contribute to human rights abuses, despite a report by EarthRights International (ERI) that directly implicated the company in cases of forced labour and displacement.

Detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi once accused Total of being the "junta's biggest supporter". The Yadana project has reportedly earned the Burmese government around $US4.83 billion, with $US4.80 billion not allocated for in the government budget, according to an ERI report.

"Total has huge political power in France; it has to be linked to the sanctions policy of France," said Dubois. "If new sanctions were implemented France would no longer be able to protect Total".

She added that sanctions were "useless" because France has only used "symbolic sanctions" that exclude restrictions on energy companies investing in Burma.

"Of course it is easy to say that sanctions aren't working [because] there has never been any political will to have sanctions that work," she said.

Kouchner's remarks appeared to suggest that France should engage directly with the military regime, following on from a US announcement last month that it would pursue dialogue with Burma's ruling generals.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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