Sunday, October 07, 2007

Burma: The Petronas Connection

Despite all the noises that Malaysia is making about Burma's human rights record, the government has conveniently forgotten its embarrassing link to the Burmese military junta.

An article in The Sydney Morning Herald, titled Oil companies look to exploit Burma, reveals that companies like Petronas are more than willing to continue doing business with the military regime.

A piece in Times Online, Boycotting Burma makes things worse, also examines the history of Petronas' Burma stake. Apparently, it originates from Premier Oil, a British company which was pressured by the British government to pull out its investments from Burma a few years ago. Premier did just that in 2002, selling its investment in the Yetagun gasfield to Petronas.

An article in Time, titled Going nowhere, even provides a dollar amount:

"Two existing operations, one managed by France's Total and the other by Malaysian state oil company Petronas, provided Burma with about US$1 billion in revenues in 2005, estimates one energy consulting firm."

From the SMH article:

"France's Total SA and Malaysia's Petroliam Nasional Bhd, or Petronas, currently pump gas from fields off Burma's coast through a pipeline to Thailand, which takes 90% of Burma's gas output, according to Thailand's PTT Exploration & Production PLC.

But investing in Burma has brought accusations that petroleum corporations offer economic support to the country's repressive junta, and in some cases are complicit in human rights abuses.

The military's bloody clampdown on the protests this week have intensified calls from international activist groups for energy companies to pull out of the country.

"They are funding the dictatorship," said Marco Simons, US legal director at Earth Rights International, an environmental and human rights group with offices in Thailand and Washington. "The oil and gas companies have been one of the major industries keeping the regime in power."

Unsurprisingly, our local newspapers are silent on this issue, with the minor exception of The Star, which ran two readers' letters, but no actual reports:
1. Impose sanctions on oil and products
2. Put on hold business activities in Myanmar

Now, Petronas is mainly government-owned, and by extension, public-owned so this can be interpreted as the Malaysian public giving support to the Myanmar military regime.

Petronas' continued investment in Burma, and continued payment of millions to the army diminishes Malaysia's stance on this issue, and opens us to accusations of hypocrisy and exploitation.

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