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Energy giants Total and Chevron leave Myanmar over human rights abuses

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By Daniel Bellamy  with AP
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Energy giants Total and Chevron leave Myanmar over human rights abuses
Copyright  Rafael Yaghobzadeh/Associated Press

TotalEnergies and Chevron, two of the world's largest energy conglomerates, said on Friday they were stopping all operations in Myanmar, citing rampant human rights abuses and deteriorating rule of law since the country's military overthrew the elected government.

The announcement came just as Total called for international sanctions against Myanmar's oil and gas sector, which remains one of the military government's primary sources of funding.

The sanctions would target the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which is a joint venture partner in all offshore gas projects in Myanmar, including Yadana with Total, Chevron, and Thailand’s PTT Exploration & Production.

Total has a majority stake in the venture and runs its daily operations, while MOGE collects revenues on behalf of the government.

“Since the Feb. 1 coup, we have seen the evolution of the country and it is clearly not favourable: The situation of rule of law and human rights in Myanmar has clearly deteriorated over months and despite the civil disobedience movements, the junta has kept power and our analysis is that it's unfortunately for the long term,” Total said.

Since the takeover, the military has cracked down brutally against dissent, abducting young men and boys, killing health care workers, and torturing prisoners.

A former Total employee in Myanmar who has campaigned against the company’s ties to the military government said she was shocked and pleased by the decision, though she acknowledged that it would be difficult to find work elsewhere.

“For the employees who still work for Total, it’s bad news even if they oppose the dictatorship or fight against the military. But for me as an ordinary person and not as an employee, I will say it is great news,” she told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because she feared reprisal from the government.

Total said it would withdraw without financial compensation and hand over its interests to the other stakeholders.

About half of Myanmar’s foreign currency comes from natural gas revenues, and it is expected to earn 1.3 billion euros from offshore and pipeline projects in 2021-2022, according to a Myanmar government forecast. Prior rounds of U.S. and European sanctions against the Myanmar military have excluded oil and gas.

In a statement released shortly after Total’s announcement, Chevron said it too was planning to leave “in light of circumstances.” The company has condemned the human rights abuses and said it would comply with any international sanctions. There was no firm time frame for Chevron's exit, but Total said it expected its departure to be finalised within six months.

The Myanmar-based human rights group Blood Money Campaign called on the companies to ensure that future payments are made into accounts inaccessible to the military and "stop treating the criminal junta as a legitimate government.”

Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision.

"The next step is to ensure that gas revenues don’t continue to fund those atrocities,” said Ken Roth, executive director of the organisation.

PTT Exploration & Production, the Thai company, said it was examining its options “putting the utmost importance for the energy security of Thailand and Myanmar and preventing impacts on energy demand to the livelihood of people in both countries."

The Yadana field is expected to be exhausted in the next several years and was nearing the end of its operations. The two companies had earlier halted dividend payments for the Myanmar project. But that decision had a limited impact on any revenue going to the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise or the military-controlled government.