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VOL. 46 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 21, 2022

Chevron, Total exit Myanmar over deteriorating human rights

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PARIS (AP) — TotalEnergies and Chevron, two of the world's largest energy conglomerates, said 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 a day after the French company called for international sanctions targeting the oil and gas sector, which remain one of the military government's primary sources of funding.

Total and Chevron had come under increasing pressure over their role in running the offshore Yadana gas field, 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 favorable: The situation of rule of law and human rights in Myanmar has clearly deteriorated over months and despite the civil disobediance 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 a 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 50% of Myanmar's foreign currency comes from natural gas revenues, with MOGE expected to earn $1.5 billion 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 timeframe for Chevron's exit, but Total said it expected its departure to be finalized 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 organization.

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 Myanma Oil and Gas Enterperise or the military-controlled government.

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Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok, Victoria Milko in Jakarta, Indonesia and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.

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