Energy giants fund Myanmar nuclear drive: rights group

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Myanmar's military rulers are using gas revenue from US and French energy giants Chevron and Total to fund an illegal bid to build nuclear weapons, human rights monitors said in a report on Monday.

Myanmar's Yadan gas pipeline, run by the two companies along with Thai firm PTTEP, made billions of dollars for the military leaders, the Paris-based group EarthRights International said, citing data from the firms.

The NGO also branded the companies complicit in human rights abuses such as targeted killings and forced labour at the pipeline.

It said Chevron, Total and PTTEP have generated nine billion dollars (seven billion euros) from Myanmar's Yadana gas pipeline since 1998, more than half of which has gone straight to the ruling junta.

"The companies are financing the world's newest nuclear threat with multi-billion dollar payments," EarthRights said in a statement.

"The funds have enabled the country's autocratic junta to maintain power and pursue an expensive, illegal nuclear weapons programme."

The United States has voiced concerns about Myanmar's cooperation with alleged nuclear proliferator North Korea after the Norwegian-based news group Democratic Voice of Burma said Myanmar was trying to build an atomic bomb.

The government of Myanmar -- sometimes still referred to as Burma -- last month dismissed the claims as "baseless."

EarthRights said its investigations showed gas revenue had found its way into offshore bank accounts and alleged they were destined to buy arms and nuclear technology.

EarthRights, citing testimony by residents and refugees, also alleged: "The oil companies are complicit in targeted killings of two ethnic Mon villagers and in ongoing forced labour."

"These violent abuses were committed by Burma Army soldiers providing security for the companies and the pipeline within the last year."

EarthRights demanded the companies publish details of their payments to Myanmar's leaders.

"Now is the time for the international community to focus on the Burmese generals' nerve center, its gas revenues," it said.

The report included responses by Chevron and Total, which said they favoured transparency but were prevented from publishing certain details.

"Chevron respects human rights in the communities and countries where we operate," the US company's response said.

"Chevron's subsidiary in Myanmar conducts its business consistent with US laws and regulations," it added, but said "contractual obligations" prevented it from publishing details of payments.

EarthRights cited a statement by Total which said the company supported transparency and human rights but was bound to respect Myanamar's will when it came to keeping payments confidential.

"Total respects state sovereignty and refrains from intervening in the political process," said a statement, cited in EarthRights' report.

"As a result, Total cannot disclose any financial or contractual information if the host country is opposed to such disclosure."

© 2010 AFP

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