Total of France, which operates a natural gas project in Burma, has
expressed its "deep concern" over the situation in the country but
rejected the idea it should pull out.
The company argues that its presence benefits tens of thousands of
people and serves as a model for "business and political leaders
looking for ways to address the country's human rights issues".
Alongside Chevron of the US, Total is one of the leading western
companies still active in Burma.
In a statement, it said: "A forced withdrawal would only lead to our
replacement by other operators probably less committed to the
ethical principles guiding all our initiatives. Our departure could
cause the population even greater hardship and is thus an
Total and Chevron are partners on the Yadana offshore gas project,
which came on stream in 1998. Last year the field produced an
average of 19.3m cubic metres a day, representing about half of
Burma's total gas output.
Most of the gas is sold to Thailand; PTT, the Petroleum Authority of
Thailand, is a member of the Yadana consortium. Chevron, which
acquired its stake when it bought Unocal in 2005, said it was
monitoring the situation.
Production has been steady since 2001. Total said it would not
invest in any new projects in Burma, but would continue to spend on
maintenance and in areas necessary to sustain production, such as
drilling new wells and installing compressors.
In 2003 Bernard Kouchner, now French foreign minister, was
commissioned as an independent consultant by Total to write a report
on the group's involvement in Burma. He did not call for it to leave
the country, but said the company "must come out clearly in favour
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based campaign group, takes a
similar view, saying it has a responsibility to speak out on events
Arvind Ganesan of HRW said: "The Yadana project is probably one of
the biggest revenue raisers, if not the biggest revenue raiser, for
the Burmese government, so it gives them the ability to do the
things they want to do."
He added that there was a similar responsibility on Thailand, which
buys most of the Yadana gas, and other Asian countries that have
been investing in Burma.
Western companies such as Premier Oil of the UK have pulled out.
But ONGC of India and CNPC of China, both state-controlled, have
been building up their investments.
Burma's gas resources are sizeable, if not enormous. Proved reserves
were 540bn cubic metres at the end of last year, according to the BP
Review of World Energy.
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