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460 rights groups call on Macron to stop French energy giant paying Myanmar $250m

A group of Myanmar activists demonstrate with placards calling the US government to sanction Myanmar's state-run Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise on May 22, 2022 [PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images]
A group of Myanmar activists demonstrate with placards calling the US government to sanction Myanmar's state-run Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise on May 22, 2022 [PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images]

In an open letter to the French government 459 civil society organisations have urged President Emmanuel Macron to stop the French oil giant Total Energies paying millions of dollars to Myanmar's military-backed government.

Total Energies has operated the Yadana gas project in Myanmar since the 1990s, which pays revenues to the state-run oil and gas company, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

The military took control of MOGE in a coup in February 2021, seized $1.5 billion worth of gas revenues, and since then has killed over 2,000 pro-democracy supporters, according to the Blood Money Campaign, which aims to pressure companies that conduct business with Myanmar's military junta to stop their activities.

Following concerted pressure from human rights groups, in January this year, Total Energies announced it was withdrawing from Myanmar. But even though its six-month withdrawal process will be complete tomorrow, 20 July, Total Energies needs the French government's approval to to authorise continued payments to MOGE – an estimated $250 million over the course of the six-month withdrawal process – transfer its shares and interest to MOGE, and bring in a new operator, Thailand's PTTEP, according to Blood Money's statement.

"What we are asking from the French government is not to allow them to make this payment and to keep this money in a protected account so it can be transferred once Myanmar has a democratically elected government," co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, Nay San Lwin, told MEMO.

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Since the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, the military-backed army has burnt women and children to death and used them as human shields in response to protests.

Detainees have been tortured using prolonged stress positions, including by being suspended from the ceiling, electrocuted, raped and injected with drugs.

In March this year, the UN accused Myanmar of engaging in systematic human rights violations, many amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Rights groups say MOGE is a vital source of funds for the military-backed government and will help it continue its campaign against citizens. At over $1 billion each year, natural gas is the country's single largest source of foreign currency revenue.

Total Energies paid the Myanmar authorities $230 million in 2019 and $176 million in 2020 in taxes and production rights, France24 has reported.

In February, the EU expanded sanctions on Myanmar to include MOGE, despite previous rounds excluding oil and gas companies. The sanctions mean that the oil giant needs the French government's approval to authorise the payment.

"In other words, the French government has the ability to stop Total Energies from allowing further gas revenues from reaching the criminal junta," says Nay San Lwin, who is also a representative for the Blood Money Campaign in Europe.

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The Blood Money Campaign, which is made up of activists located on Myanmar's border, is also putting pressure on the American energy corporation Chevron and South Korea's Posco Energy, but for now, the focus is on Total Energies.

"Total Energies is the most popular among our campaigns right now because they are about to make this $250 million payment to this military junta which will help them commit crimes against the entire population in the country," says Nay San Lwin.

In 2017, Nay San Lwin spoke to MEMO as a vicious wave of violence against the Rohingya swept the country including beatings, rapes, shootings, torture and burning down villages, all under the pretext of "anti-terror".

"The military enjoys impunity inside the country and internationally," he says. "We believe that when all these atrocities against the Rohingya happened, many people didn't believe it and took the military's side, and they allowed this impunity that we are experiencing across the country today."

Nay San Lwin says that around the time of the coup last year there was good coverage from the US, Canada, UK and European countries, but this year the world is focused on Ukraine.

"The Rohingya case is almost forgotten now. The refugees need about $881 million, and they only got 10 per cent, so it's underfunded. So, the focus is completely on Ukraine. All other issues like Myanmar and other issues across the world are almost forgotten. If the world took action, they would feel the pressure."

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