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Burmese Activists Urge Halting Shwe Pipeline Project

Posted by Ramesh Khati on November 4, 2009

By Nava Thakuria

The voices against the foreign intrusion in Burmese economy are increasing. The recent action by the Burmese people living in various countries on October 28 shows that they are not only expressing concern about the plight of the indigenous population, but also urged the China government to halt a proposed natural gas and oil pipeline project inside Burma.

On the Global Day of Action, the pro-democracy activists, under the leadership of a campaign group had conveyed their angers against the gas-oil pipeline starting from western Burmese State to a Chinese province.

With the supports from 120 organizations based in over 20 countries the Shwe Gas Movement asked Beijing to suspend the billion dollar Shwe Gas and Oil Pipeline Project. The campaign group, an alliance of All Arakan Students & Youth Congress, Arakan Oil Watch, Shwe Gas Movement India and Shwe Gas Movement Bangladesh, sent an open letter to the President of People’s Republic of China through the Chinese Embassies in Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, UK asking the halt of the construction of the project.

The pipeline project is understood to start from the bank of Bay of Bengal and then pass through the military ruled country for nearly thousand KMs and finally reaching the Yunnan Province of China. The pipeline will be used to pump the oil, shipped from the Middle East and Africa and also the natural gas from the Shwe gas fields of Burma (Myanmar) to the soil of China.

Mentionable that, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) holds a 50.9% stake in partnership with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in the construction of the oil and gas pipeline from Arakan to Yunnan. The project is expected to yield $29 billion over 30 years to the military junta of Nay Pie Taw.

M. Kim of the Shwe Gas Movement, while speaking to this writer from New Delhi, argued that the project would invite serious threats to the people of Burma. It would also pose risks for the regional security, diplomacy and financial aspects to both Burma and China. Therefore we demand to suspend the project to prevent a human and environmental disaster from taking place, he added.

The Southeast Asian country has been ruled by the military generals since 1964. The present regime named as State Peace and Development Council is headed by Senior General Than Shwe, who has developed a kind of enmity towards the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. The leader of the opposition party (National League for Democracy), Suu Kyi is under house arrest for more than a decade now. Though faced sanction from the US and European countries, the Burmese junta remains fortunate to have trade links with China, India and the ASEAN countries.

The said letter, addressed to the President Hu Jintao expressed concern that the project would invite increasing human rights violations, including land confiscation, forced labour, extra-judicial killings and rapes inside Burma.

“We are gravely concerned for the thousands communities living along the planned 980 km pipeline corridor. Based on experiences in Burma, partnerships with the MOGE on infra-structure development projects invariably leads to forced displacement, forced labour and loss of livelihoods. The escalation of abuses around a project when Burma army soldiers provide security is well documented by UN agencies and NGOs,” asserted in the letter.

It may be mentioned that a number of international corporations are engaged in the petroleum production activities in Burma including Daewoo International (South Korea, 51% of shares in Shwe Gas Consortium), Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC Videsh, India, 17% of shares in Shwe Gas Consortium), Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL India, 8.5% of shares in Shwe Gas Consortium), The China National Petroleum Corporation (purchaser of the gas and builder of pipelines), PetroChina Company Ltd etc.

“In the 1990s, the Yadana gas project was developed by TOTAL of France and UNOCAL Corporation of the United States of America. The project directly resulted in forced labour, land confiscation, displacement, rape, and killings. TOTAL and UNOCAL were subsequently sued in French and US courts, respectively, for what amounted to their involvement in the human rights abuses, and each case was settled out of court. These same questions of complicity, aiding and abetting, and otherwise exacerbating the human rights situation in Burma are raised again by the Trans-Burma pipeline project and directed at CNPC under your government’s policy and administration,” added in the letter. It also claimed, “Conflicts have already surfaced in Burma, in response to oil and gas exploration by a Chinese corporation in partnership with Burma’s MOGE. The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Ltd conducted explorations in western Burma’s onshore block M between 2005-2007, which led to land confiscation, environmental degradation and loss of livelihoods. The local community were neither consulted nor informed of the project.”

The initiative was supported by All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, All Burma Federation of Student Unions, All Burma Students League, Burmese Women’s Union, Network for Democracy and Development, People’s Defence Force, Ethnic Nationalities Council, National Council of the Union of Burma, Women League for Burma, Karen Women Organization, Karenni National Women’s Organization, Kuki Women’s Human Rights Organization, Rakhaing Women’s Union, Shan Women’s Action Network, Women’s League of Chinland, Student and Youth Congress of Burma, Arakan League for Democracy, Burma Rivers Network, Ethnic Community Development Forum, Burma Lawyer Council, Chin Human Rights Organization, Earth Rights International, Friends of Burma, Alternative Asean Network on Burma, Burma Campaign Australia, Burma Centre Delhi, Hong Kong Coalition for a Free Burma etc.

The campaign group strongly argued that if the pipeline is implemented there would be two visible impacts, first, of course more militarization of Burma and secondly, more rights violation. “The Burmese military regime will receive more than 800 million US dollars every year from the project. But the money will never go to the people. And there will be more human rights violations like forced labour, lands confiscation and even rape of women,” stated Kim, the Shwe Gas Movement coordinator.

The letter however admitted, “We understand and support the fact that China has increasing energy needs in order to support the development of your country and its people. However, we believe that in order to nurture a relationship based on regional stability and development, that would benefit the people of both the countries, an urgent measure is definitely required.”

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