Published On: Thu, Jun 28th, 2012

France’s Hollande Tells Suu Kyi Total Will Respect Law In Myanmar

By Gabriele Parussini

PARIS–French President Francois Hollande pledged Tuesday that Total SA (FP.FR, TOT) will respect environment and labor laws in Myanmar, but granted the country’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a direct resort in case the oil giant didn’t: let him know.

Total has been reaching out to opposition forces in Myanmar, where it operates an offshore natural-gas field, as the company tries to adapt to new political reality in the Southeast Asian country. Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie traveled to Myanmar in June and met with the longtime dissident, who was Tuesday in Paris for the last stop her Europe visit.

As many Western companies are going or returning to Myanmar, with their governments gradually easing sanctions against the country’s military regime following Ms. Suu Kyi’s release and the organization of general elections, Total must navigate a more delicate path because, in the past decade, the company resisted pressure to leave the country despite accusations by humanitarian activists that its continued presence made it complicit of a junta.

“Ms. Suu Kyi has met Total’s managers and us, and every time we set principles, we make sure they are respected,” Mr. Hollande told journalists at a press conference after meeting with the Nobel Peace Prize winner. “Should that not be the case, Ms. Suu Kyi can join me at any time so we can set things straight.”

Total began operations in Myanmar in 1992, signing a contract to develop the Yadana offshore gas field and ship the gas to Thailand via pipeline. Later that year, Total sold part of its interest in the field to Union Oil Company of California, or Unocal.

Production started in 2000. Since then, Total has been producing about 15,000 barrels per day of oil equivalent from Yadana.

The U.S. imposed sanctions against all businesses and dollar transactions with Myanmar in 1997 but they were not retroactive. The European Union’s sanctions targeted mainly the trading of wood, precious stones and ore. This allowed Total to keep on conducting its activities, though the group decided to avoid further investments.

In May, the EU suspended most sanctions against Myanmar for a year. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said the U.S. was mulling a similar move.

In the past, the French group was the target of criticism, with several NGOs criticizing it for helping the junta that was in power in the country until 2011. Total repeatedly rejected the accusations, saying it was bringing jobs and humanitarian relief to impoverished regions in Myanmar.

“Regarding Total, I know that there has been numerous accusantions, but I don’t want to remain prisoner of the past,” Ms. Suu Kyi said. “We must look forward.”

“We want to give everyone the chance of investing” in Myanmar.

Ms. Suu Kyi undertook in June the first trip to Europe in 24 years, elating her international supporters as she went. In Oslo, she received the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991. In Oxford, she received an honorary doctorate. Paris was her last stop on the continent.

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