March 30, 1998

Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, has criticised UK company Premier Oil for supporting the military regime in Burma by helping it to develop off-shore gas reserves. In a new video statement smuggled out of Burma she condemns the company, saying “Premier Oil is not only supporting this military government financially, it is also giving it moral support, and it is doing a great disservice to the cause of democracy. It should be ashamed of itself”.
In the week that Britain hosts the Asia Europe Meeting in London Aung San Suu Kyi questions why the UK government’s hard talking on Burma is not being translated into firm action to curb the activities of companies such as Premier: “Why is the British government pursuing one policy and British companies pursuing another? There are some who might think that perhaps the British government is not altogether sincere if it permits its companies to invest under this present regime.”
Premier Oil plans to build a gas pipeline across politically sensitive Burmese territory into Thailand. It will run through an area where an estimated 25,000 people have already been forcibly relocated by the Burmese military. Refugees fleeing the area report that relocations have been carried out in order to secure a route for the gas exporting facilities of an earlier project operated by Total Oil. Premier’s business partner, Burma’s ruling military, has been condemned internationally for gross human rights abuses and by the UK government for profiting from the export of illegal opium and heroin. Last September Robin Cook commented that “It is not only a deeply repressive regime, but it is also a deeply irresponsible regime in that it is one of the few governments in the world whose members are prepared to profit out of the drugs trade rather than to seek to suppress the drugs trade.”
Since oil companies first invested in Burma with plans of piping gas across Burma’s Tenasserim division into Thailand, the military has stepped up its activity in the area. In 1990 there were 1,750 armed soldiers in the investment area, there are now 11,230 soldiers and two artillery units.
Villagers have been forcibly relocated partly to secure the Tenasserim division for foreign investment. There is no compensation for houses, crops and belongings stolen or burnt by the army. The roads and military barracks in the region where Premier will be building its pipeline have been built with the use of civilian forced labour. Prison labour is also used extensively for the building of roads and other development projects by the army. Prisoners are shackled in old leg-irons and have to break rocks for the roads. Many are elderly, sick, and disabled. They are frequently beaten and do not receive adequate food or sleep.
Yvette Mahon, Director of the Burma Action Group says “Not only is Premier providing financial support to one of the world’s most brutal regimes but the UK government is allowing them to do so contrary to the ethics that apparently guide its foreign policy. Burma must be the lowest benchmark for the government’s ethical foreign policy – relatively few British companies are involved and few British jobs are at stake. If the government can’t do anything on Burma it doesn’t inspire much hope for firm action in other more ‘profitable’ places where brutal regimes rule.”


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