09/10/2009, 00.00
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About 5 billion dollars from Total and Chevron flow into junta’s secret accounts, NGO says

EarthRights International accuses the two energy giants of helping Myanmar’s dictatorship, profiting from forced labour and hiding the military’s crimes. Secret accounts have been set up in two Singapore-based offshore banks. No official comment from the two companies.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Energy giants Total and Chevron are helping Myanmar’s military employ forced labour, hide its abuses and killings, and fill its coffers to the tune of nearly US$ 5 billion, neatly stashed away in accounts in two Singapore-based offshore banks, EarthRights International (ERI) said in two separate reports.

After years of research, the US-based rights organisation, which operates across South-East Asia, accuses French oil giant Total and US-based Chevron of covering up human rights abuses by the Myanmar military, which include forced labour and murder. Myanmar troops protect installations in the Yadana gas field, located in the Andaman sea, off the coast of Myanmar and Thailand.

ERI investigators also found that the junta excluded at least US$ 4.80 billion generated from the sale of natural gas from the country’s national budget, placing it in personal accounts in two Singapore banks.

“The military elite are hiding billions of dollars of the people’s revenue in Singapore while the country needlessly suffers under the lowest social spending in Asia,” said Matthew Smith, ERI Burma Project Coordinator.

“Forced labor, killings and other abuses are being committed by Total and Chevron’s security forces while the companies mislead and lie to the international community about their impacts,” said Naing Htoo, another principal author of the ERI reports.

The two reports by EarthRights International are based on photographs, interviews and testimonials by people affected by the project which is found in an area not far from the Andaman Islands.

The area contains more than 150 billion cubic metres of natural gas, and has attracted some of the largest energy companies in the world.

More recently Total found itself mired in controversy over its economic and commercial ties to Myanmar’s military junta following the arrest of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Although Myanmar is under international sanctions, which ban sales involving weapons, lumber and precious metals and stones, the French government has steadfastly defended the interests of its multinational giant in Myanmar.

According to an AFP news report, representatives of Total and Chevron were unavailable for official comments.

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