Total to continue gas production in Myanmar

CEO says firm has 'duty' as it supplies electricity to millions in Yangon, Thailand

Published Mon, Apr 5, 2021 · 05:50 AM

Yangon

FRENCH energy giant Total will not halt gas production in coup-hit Myanmar, its chief said on Sunday, despite growing calls for foreign companies to sever ties with the junta as it escalates a brutal crackdown on dissent.

Chief executive Patrick Pouyanne said Total had a duty to stay the course because gas it produces supplies electricity to millions in Yangon as well as western Thailand.

Mr Pouyanne said he was "outraged by the repression" in Myanmar but would refuse to "act to the detriment of our local employees and the Burmese population who are already suffering so much".

Hundreds have been killed in demonstrations since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, prompting widespread calls for foreign companies to halt operations that benefit the junta.

Italy's Benetton and Sweden's H&M have suspended all new orders from the country and French energy giant EDF suspended its activities, including a US$1.5 billion project to build a hydroelectric dam.

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Demonstrations against the coup - supported by a widespread strike by civil servants - have crippled Myanmar's economy, leaving gas exports as one of the junta's main sources of revenue. The military-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise has partnerships with Total and US rival Chevron generates annual revenues of around $1.0 billion from the sale of natural gas.

Total paid around US$230 million to the Myanmar authorities in 2019 and US$176 million in 2020 in the form of taxes and "production rights", according to the company's own financial statements. It has not yet paid any taxes - worth around US$4 million per month - to the military since the putsch, because the banking system in the country has ceased to operate, Mr Pouyanne said.

He said Total had decided not to put the taxes into an escrow account, saying it could put local managers at risk of being arrested and imprisoned. Total would donate the "equivalent" of the taxes it will owe the Myanmar government to organisations working on human rights in the country, Mr Pouyanne said.

Meanwhile, opponents of military rule in Myanmar inscribed messages of protest on Easter eggs on Sunday while others were back on the streets, facing off with the security forces after a night of candle-lit vigils for hundreds killed since a Feb 1 coup.

In the latest in a series of impromptu shows of defiance, messages including "We must win" and "Get out MAH" - referring to junta leader Min Aung Hlaing - were seen on eggs in photographs on social media.

"Easter is all about the future and the people of Myanmar have a great future in a federal democracy," Dr Sasa, international envoy for the ousted civilian government, said in a statement. Dr Sasa is a member of the Christian minority in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Opponents of military rule have mounted a civil disobedience campaign that has included creative shows of defiance promoted on social media. Young people in the main city of Yangon handed out eggs bearing the messages of protest, pictures in posts showed.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group monitoring casualties and arrests, said the toll of dead had risen to 557, as of late Saturday. AFP, REUTERS

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