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Australian company pulls out of Burma

May 13, 2009 (DVB), An Australian company has announced its withdrawal from Burma after evidence arose that a subsidiary was working on designs for a new airport in the country's capital, despite Australia's tough sanctions on Burma.

Downer EDI, one of Australia's largest engineering companies, recently announced the withdrawal of the contract for its Singapore-based subsidiary CPG's work on the design of a new airport in Naypyidaw, Burma's remote jungle capital.

The move followed an investigation by Asia Sentinel newspaper in Singapore.

Journalist Ben Bland, who carried out the investigation, said that Downer EDI claimed they knew nothing of the contract until he contacted them.

"They said this was an 'unintentional oversight', which is why they have moved to pull out of Burma so quickly," he said.

"[They] told me that they were pulling out because 'our group policy has not been applied at a sub-divisional level'."

Australia has launched numerous vocal condemnations of the Burmese regime, and last year extended sanctions on the country.

Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council are alleged to have used forced labour in the construction of the new capital, which in 2005 was moved 350 miles north from the previous capital, Rangoon.

"It does seem likely that a lavish new airport in the junta's secretive capital would benefit the generals more than anyone else," said Bland.

Downer EDI claim to operate under a 'zero harm' policy, and followed the announcement by saying it would investigate closely all contracts it holds.

"We take Zero Harm very seriously and while not insinuating anything against our direct client in Singapore, we believe this action to be in keeping with the intent of our policy," said Maryanne Graham, corporate affairs manager at Downer EDI.

She added that whilst the design work is being undertaken in Singapore, the project itself is based in Burma, and therefore warranted withdrawal.

Reporting by Francis Wade


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