Thursday, July 24, 2008

US removes Chevron from Burma sanctions

US removes oil giant from Burma sanctions

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The US oil giant Chevron will continue to do business in Burma after a provision to stop it operating there was removed from the latest round of US sanctions on the country.

The new sanctions plan, approved yesterday by Congress and expected to receive quick approval from the White House, prevents the sale of Burmese gems and timber in the US via third parties – bringing the US into line with EU and Canadian policy. Profits from those products have enriched Burma's oppressive military regime.

But Congress chose not to sanction Chevron, the largest US business still operating in Burma. An early version of the plan would have forced the company to give up its 28% stake in the Yadana natural gas field, which the regime considers a crucial political priority.

Human rights advocates have linked the Yadana project to ongoing abuses by the regime, including forced labour, rapes and land confiscation to make room for the natural gas pipeline which is slated to run from Burma to Thailand.

The requirement that Chevron leaves Burma was softened to a non-binding recommendation for divestment after the company protested. The US stake in Yadana would be handed over to Chinese or Indian companies if Chevron was forced to sell, the company argued.

The Burma sanctions plan was proposed in Congress last year in response to the regime's bloody quashing of peaceful protests by Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy activists. Not until Cyclone Nargis caused widespread devastation in Burma in May, however, did the legislation move forward.

Howard Berman, the Democratic chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the House of Representatives, lamented that the regime is morally bankrupt "but unfortunately is far from financially bankrupt".

"While the Burmese people live in abject poverty, Burma's military leaders continue to take Burma's vast natural resources as their own," Berman added.

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