Ignoring human rights, Total remains production in Myanmar

UMMATIMES - French oil and gas group Total said it would not stop producing gas at Myanmar's Yadana field as long as operations remained safe, in part to protect employees there who may be exposed to risks from the military junta.

Total has come under pressure from human rights groups and Myanmar's civilian government to review its operations amid allegations of paying taxes to fund the military-controlled state.

In a newspaper column to be published in the French Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, and released online, Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said the group had several reasons to keep Yadana's offshore gas fields running.

It is feared that staff there could be subject to forced labor under the junta if they decide to stop production in protest at violence in Myanmar, Pouyanne said, and the group also does not want to cut off a major source of energy.

"Can we stop the production of gas that supplies electricity to the large population in Yangon, adding to their suffering?" Pouyanne said in the statement. "The Thai authorities have warned us of the importance of this energy source."

Located off Myanmar's southwestern coast in Martaban Bay, the Yadana field produces gas for delivery to power plants in Thailand. They also supply Myanmar's domestic market, via an offshore pipeline built and operated by state energy company Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

Pouyanne said Total was considering whether it should place tax payments owed to Myanmar's states in third-party accounts, as some campaigners have suggested, but said this could put local managers in conflict with the law.

The total has so far paid none of the USD 4 million (Rp. 67 billion) in monthly taxes normally paid to military governments, Pouyanne added, "for the simple reason that the banking system is no longer functioning."

Total has suspended new projects and drilling in Myanmar in response to the crisis, and Pouyanne said the group was "shocked by the repressive measures it has taken."

Myanmar security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protests on Saturday that killed at least five people, a protester and media said, as the military stepped up its efforts to contain dissent with warrants for 20 other prominent critics.

Pouyanne added that Total would donate the equivalent of the group's tax payable to the Myanmar government to associations working for human rights in the country.