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10 September 2009 

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Oil Firms Accused of Whitewashing Burma Pipeline Abuses by Military Rulers


10 September 2009

Workers at Total's billion-dollar gas project in southeastern Burma for the construction of a controversial natural gas pipeline from the Yadana field (1996 file)
Workers at Total's billion-dollar gas project in southeastern Burma for the construction of a controversial natural gas pipeline from the Yadana field (1996 file)
A human rights group has accused Western oil firms of whitewashing abuses connected with a gas pipeline in Burma. The group also says Burma's military government has siphoned billions of dollars from the project, helping to keep them in power.

EarthRights International says security forces for the Yadana gas pipeline running from Burma to Thailand confiscated land, forced villagers into labor, and even murdered.

The U.S.-based rights group made the accusations in two reports released to journalists in Bangkok.

The group says French oil firms Total and American Chevron, the main investors in the pipeline, used inaccurate and misleading information to give favorable assessments of the project's effect on villages.

Matthew Smith is a Burma project coordinator with EarthRights International. He says there is a strong case for complicity in the abuses.

"In this case, the impact assessments that were commissioned by Total ... these impact assessments [were] primarily used as a public relations tool by the companies," he said.

A spokeswoman for Total told VOA the company received the report Thursday and the allegations are being studied. She said it would be premature to have an official response at this time.

Total had denied earlier reports of forced labor in the pipeline area.

Chevron did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

EarthRights International says Burma's military government has siphoned nearly $5 billion from the gas revenues and hidden them in two Singapore banks.

Smith says the laundered funds are helping Burma's military rulers to avoid the effects of economic sanctions.

"As long as the military regime has easy access to these funds in Singapore, we feel like it has little incentive to change," he said. "And, we are encouraging the international community to use this as a leverage point to support the people of Burma."

The two banks, the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation and the DBS Group, both denied the allegations.  


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