Daily News-October 13 - 2001- Saturday

  • TotalFinaElf, Premier Oil deny Burma human rights abuse accusations
  • UN rapporteur on Human Rights meets Burmese leaders
  • Burma to Top Heroin Produce
  • Security Measures Influence New Bridge

  • TotalFinaElf, Premier Oil deny Burma human rights abuse accusations

    LONDON (AFX) - TotalFinaElf and Premier Oil PLC denied they are involved in human rights abuses after testimony before the European Parliament yesterday which accused them of complicity in and direct knowledge of "egregious human rights abuses for the benefit of western oil companies."

    The testimony from Earth Rights International (ERI) accused the companies of employing soldiers who subject local peasants to forced labour, extortion and beatings, according to the Guardian newspaper.

    Premier Oil corporate social responsibility consultant Richard Jones said it "takes seriously" reports such as ERI's but is convinced measures it has taken have ensured its human rights standards are met in the region.

    A TotalFinaElf spokesman reiterated that it is "unimaginable" that the company would have recourse to forced labour. "Our workforce in Burma is exclusively adult, voluntary and its remuneration is equivalent to the standards that we apply everywhere," he said. "All these rules have been respected in Burma the same as everywhere else."

    Premier Oil's Jones however said his company has "accepted there is enough of a concern," noting the company's training and monitoring programme implemented over the last year. Jones said he could not rule out that the soldiers -- who he stressed are employed by the government but do provide security for Premier Oil facilities -- have been guilty of such abuses. However, he said that for the past year Premier Oil has been training these soldiers to meet the company's "aspirations" for human rights. And for the last six months a monitoring programme has been in place which has shown these aspirations are being met, he said.

    According to the Guardian though, ERI backed up its allegations with a report containing hundreds of witness statements taken in Burma as recently as last month which, it said, proved that the situation was as bad as ever.
    UN rapporteur on Human Rights meets Burmese leaders

    ABC Online

    The special rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has held talks with senior junta figure General Khin Nyunt in Rangoon.

    Mr Pinheiro's talks with Khin Nyunt, first secretary of Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council, lasted for more than an hour.

    The UN official and his aides arrived in Rangoon on Tuesday for a 12-day investigative mission, his second to Myanmar this year after having visited in April. He is also expected to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders of her opposition National League for Democracy, which won the 1990 general elections by a landslide but was blocked from coming to power by the military.
    Burma to Top Heroin Produce

    LONDON (AP) - Burma could become the world's biggest supplier of heroin if Afghan growers adhere to the Taliban's ban on opium poppy cultivation, a U.N. researcher said Friday.

    Dr. Sandeep Chawla, chief of research for the U.N. drug control program,said last year's ban by Afghanistan 's hard-line Taliban rulers was highly effective.

    ``Afghanistan has gone from producing 70 percent of the world's opium to less than 10 percent,'' Chawla told a London conference organized by the British charity Drug Scope.

    During the 1990s, Afghanistan produced between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of opium per year, followed by Burma, which produced 1,000 tons a year, and Laos and Colombia, which produced 100 tons a year, Chawla said.At poppy harvest time last year, Afghanistan had 200,000 acres under poppy cultivation, producing 3,276 tons of raw opium. This year, 18,700 acres under cultivation have produced 185 tons of opium.

    The price of raw opium in Afghanistan went from $20 a kilo last year to more than $200 this year. It was $700 just before the Sept. 11 attacks, after which it plummeted dramatically on speculation that the Taliban prohibition on poppy cultivation would not be enforced, Chawla said.

    For the first time in 30 years, the price of raw opium in Burma is at the same level as in Afghanistan, when usually it is up to three times higher, he said.

    Although there was no evidence so far that farmers were returning to growing opium, Chawla said they might if political instability and widespread poverty continued.
    Security Measures Influence New Bridge

    By Maung Maung Oo
    The Irrawaddy

    October 12, 2001—Burma’s decision to build a second bridge linking Mai Sai in Thailand with Tachilek in Burma’s Shan State is not simply an attempt to boost bilateral trade. The move is primarily aimed at better controlling the flow of vehicles heading in and out of Burma, according to sources in Tachilek.

    "The mixed flow of pedestrians and vehicles on the old bridge creates a rather chaotic scene for border officials," said a man in Tachilek.The new bridge will only be used for motored vehicles, while the current bridge will deal with foot traffic. The bridge is projected to be finished in two years.

    The source added that the decision was also based on a recent incident involving a group of high-ranking Thai officials who entered Burma unnoticed and who were eventually kidnapped by soldiers from the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The UWSA is an armed guerilla group that is widely believed to be the number-one producer of both methamphetamines and heroin in Burma.

    "Rangoon does not want to face another problem like this in the future," said an intelligence source in Tachilek. The Thai officials were released unharmed after a delegation of Burmese officials brokered their release.

    The border crossing was closed for almost five months this year after a series of border clashes between the two countries. The border crossing reopened in July."Business is only back to about half of what it was before the closure," said a businessman in Tachilek. The Burmese government is still prohibiting the import of certain Thai products such as MSG and some energy drinks." Last Sunday, Burma’s Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt and Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai inspected the new bridge site.