French power giant TotalEnergies to pull out of Myanmar over human rights abuses

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TotalEnergies, one of the world's largest energy conglomerates, says it is stopping its operations in Myanmar, citing "worsening" human rights abuses since last year's coup. The announcement, on Friday, was quickly followed by a similar promise from US energy giant Chevron.

The firm has faced pressure to cut financial links with the junta since the army seized power from a civilian government in February 2021.

"The situation, in terms of human rights and more generally the rule of law, which have kept worsening in Myanmar... has led us to reassess the situation and no longer allows TotalEnergies to make a sufficiently positive contribution in the country," the company said on Friday.

TotalEnergies will withdraw from its Yadana gas field in the Andaman Sea, which provides electricity to the local Burmese and Thai population, six months at the latest after the expiry of its contractual period.

Human Rights Watch says natural gas projects are Myanmar's single largest source of foreign currency revenue, generating more than $1 billion every year.

But Total said it had not identified any means to sanction the military junta without avoiding stopping gas production and ensuing payments to the military-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

The company had announced last year that it was suspending cash payments to its joint venture with the army, Moattama Gas Transportation Company Limited (MGTC).

Total paid around $230 million to the Myanmar authorities in 2019 and another $176 million in 2020 in the form of taxes and "production rights", according to the company's own financial statements.

Total said Friday that it had tried "insofar as is materially and legally possible" to limit financial flows received by the MOGE.

But it said it was "materially impossible" to prevent revenue flows as Thailand's national energy company PTT made most gas sale payments.

Western sanctions

Around 30 percent of the gas produced at Yadana is sold to the MOGE for domestic use, providing about half of the largest city Yangon's electricity supply, according to TotalEnergies.

About 70 percent is exported to Thailand and sold to PTT.

TotalEnergies had operated the gas field, which produces around six billion cubic metres of gas per year, since 1992.

International diplomatic pressure and sanctions have been building against Myanmar's military junta since last year's coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The United States, Canada, the European Union and Britain have imposed targeted economic sanctions on the Myanmar military, its leaders and entities.

Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor this week sold its stake in a Burmese digital payments service over the coup.

Myanmar's military has also faced accusations of serious human rights violations over its treatment of the mainly Muslim Rohingya minority ethnic group, which faced increasing persecution since 2017.

(AFP)

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