French oil firm would be hurt by Myanmar sanctions

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French energy giant Total will have far reaching consequences is Europe imposes new sanctions on Myanmar.

Paris – If Europe imposes new sanctions on Myanmar's military regime they would hit the French energy giant Total's operations in the country and have far reaching consequences, France said Wednesday.

Speaking as EU countries mulled action against the junta over its treatment of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Total was the sole major European investor in the country.

"The only serious economic lever would obviously be Total," Kouchner told members of the French parliament, warning that any decision to stop the firm working in Myanmar would have serious consequences in the region.

"Total presents us with a problem that we are going to try to solve," he admitted. "No-one is saying that we shouldn't take a firm stance on Total.

"But if we take a firm stand that would be decided at the highest level of the state, and we're going to review the situation in the coming days, that would mean cutting off gas supplies to a good part of the Burmese population, not to mention the city of Bangkok, since the gas goes to Thailand," he said.

"We have to weigh things carefully," he continued, warning that if Total was forbidden from working in Myanmar's natural gas fields, Chinese firms would be quick to pick up the slack.

"That's not to say we're not considering it. That means that we're thinking seriously about it but we find the current situation in Myanmar unacceptable," Kouchner said.

On Monday, EU ministers meeting in Brussels criticised Myanmar's decision to prosecute Suu Kyi for having allowed an American trespasser to stay in the house where she was being held under house arrest.

But they failed to threaten new sanctions, preferring to call on India and China to bring pressure to bear on the regime.

Total, France's largest and most profitable company, has been a major investor in Myanmar's Yadana gas field since 1992. Production from Yadana represents 60 percent of Myanmar's gas exports to Thailand.

The European Union imposed sanctions on Myanmar in 1996, banning arms exports, imposing visa restrictions on junta allies, limiting diplomatic contacts and freezing officials' offshore accounts.

New measures were taken in 2007 after a crackdown on pro-democracy protests by Buddhist monks, banning European firms from importing wood, minerals, gems and metals from Myanmar.

AFP / Expatica

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