Total and Chevron earn $5bn for Burma junta

Sept 10, 2009 (DVB), The $US5 billion generated for Burma's ruling junta by two of the world's largest oil companies has weakened the impact of sanctions on the regime, according to a report released today.

The findings appear to defy attempts by Western nations to boycott the Burmese regime, which is alleged to have siphoned the money into Singaporean banks, despite ruling over a crumbling economy.

The two companies, French oil giant Total and United States-based Chevron, continue to operate the Yadana gas project in Burma, even though both countries hold sanctions on the regime.

Advocacy group EarthRights International (ERI) today released two reports exposing profits from a project that is alleged to be responsible for forced labour, killings and heavy restrictions in movement for those living near to project sites.

"The military elite are hiding billions of dollars of the peoples' revenue in Singapore while the country needlessly suffers under the lowest social spending in Asia," said ERI Burma Project coordinator Matthew Smith.

"The revenue from this pipeline is the regime's lifeline and a critical leverage point that the international community could use to support the people of Burma."

Of the $US4.83 billion earned so far by the project, "the regime would have excluded at least $US4.80 billion of that revenue from the country's national budget" says the report, Total Impact.

While not advocating divestment from Burma, ERI in a press release called on the two companies to publish all payments to the government and clarify whether the project is complicit in human rights abuses of civilians.

Despite recent ratcheting up of US and European Union sanctions on Burma, they do not cover the oil and gas sector.

Burma is known to have vast offshore gas reserves which are being aggressively developed by foreign corporations, including Korean and Chinese.

It is support from overseas companies, particularly in the oil and gas sector, that is widely believed to be the principal reason why sanctions have not worked in pressuring the regime.

The revenue means that Total and Chevron are a "leading external factor contributing to the regime's intransigence," said ERI.

A second ERI report, Getting it Wrong, accuses the two companies of whitewashing their public image by concealing evidence of human rights abuses related to the Yadana project, which has been going since 1992.

"ERI presents evidence proving that Total lied to the public when it claimed that the International Labour Organization (ILO) certified that the company eradicated forced labor in its project area," it said, adding that the ILO had denied ay such statements were made.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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