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June 15, 2009 (DVB), Conflicts of interest within the Korean government have led to it rejecting allegations of human rights abuses connected to Korean-backed natural gas projects in Burma, according to a report released today.
Still in construction, the Shwe Gas project, which will pump Burma's vast natural gas supplies to China, has been linked with cases of forced relocation of civilians and land confiscation.
Korean corporation Daewoo International part operates the project, and in 2001 formed an international consortium which includes the state-run Korean Gas Corporation (KOGAS) to develop the Bay of Bengal gas field.
Advocacy group EarthRights International (ERI) and campaign group Shwe Gas Movement (SGM), supported by Korea's two largest labour unions, last year filed a complaint to the Korean government regarding the pipeline.
The complaint alleged that Daewoo and KOGAS "failed to practice due diligence to prevent negative human rights and environmental impacts of the Shwe Project", and that the project failed to respect international humanitarian law.
Furthermore it alleged that the companies violated guidelines for multinational organisations set out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which advises governments on business and economic development.
A report released today by ERI and SGM cited "inherent conflicts of interest within the Korean government" that pushed it to reject the complaint.
"The ministry tasked with receiving OECD complaints is the same ministry tasked with promoting overseas energy development projects and the same ministry that provided Daewoo a sizeable loan to proceed with the controversial Shwe Project," the report said.
"The Korean government sided completely and uncritically with Daewoo International and KOGAS on every aspect of the complaint."
Matthew Smith, Burma Project coordinator at ERI, said that despite the conflict of interest, ERI were still surprised at the rejection of the complaint.
"There are certain elements of the Korean government that do have an interest evidently in promoting business over concern for human rights abuses and other elements of the OECD guidelines, [such as] sustainable development and environmental protection," he said.
An official from the Korean government's oil and gas ministry said that he was aware of Burma's human rights problems, but that he personally thought Korea approached countries with only "a business mind" regarding foreign investment, adding that it "costs a lot of money" to investigate human rights abuses abroad.
ERI called for the Burmese government to include affected people living in the vicinity of the pipeline in the decision-making process, and called on the OECD to fill the gap created by the Korean government's inaction.
Reporting by Francis Wade