Corporations finance Myanmar coup regime’s war on the people

April 5, 2023
Myanmar/Burma supporters protest at the United States embassy in Canberra, on March 27. Photo: Supplied

Myanmar/Burma democracy activists are stepping up their campaign on United States President Joe Biden’s administration to impose sanctions to stop North American oil and gas companies from financing the Myanmar military coup regime’s war against the people.

A demonstration was held outside the US embassy in Canberra, on March 27, to demand sanctions on Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

Mon Zin, protest organiser and a founding member of Global Myanmar Spring Revolution, told Green Left that until earlier this year, the US-based multinational corporation Chevron owned 41% of a joint venture between MOGE and Thailand’s Public Company Limited (PTT) to export billions of dollars worth of gas from the Yadana offshore gas field — the biggest gas project in Myanmar.

“Even though the US government has an arms embargo in place on Myanmar, by allowing American companies to work in Myanmar's gas industry it is facilitating and providing the money that enables the Myanma junta to purchase arms from Russia, China, India and Pakistan," Mon Zin said. "These arms, purchased with the funding generated from gas revenue, enable the Myanma junta to continue committing atrocities and brutal attacks on innocent civilians.

“At the start of our campaign, we calculated the income to the military junta from the Yadana project as US$1.5 billion a year out of the total Myanma gas industry export revenue of about $3.5 billion a year. This is a huge part of the junta’s foreign revenue.

“We thought that the US had not imposed sanctions on the military junta’s gas exports because it was protecting the interest of Chevron, but even after Chevron sold its shares in the Yadana project to a Canadian company [earlier this year], the US has still not imposed sanctions on MOGE even though the European Union (EU) has already done so.

“So we are guessing that Chevron might still have some investments in the Canadian corporation.”

Chevron’s share sale to Et Martem Holdings, a Bermuda-based subsidiary of Canadian-based MTI Energy, is shrouded in secrecy.

According to oil industry publication Upstream, other affiliate companies of MTI “reportedly have stakes in oil and gas assets in countries including Angola and Brazil, the latter involving a deal to acquire Chevron’s stake in the producing Papa Terra field”.

“We have seen the devastating impact of the junta's brutal attacks on civilians, extrajudicial killings, and widespread atrocities,” Mon Zin wrote in a March 27 letter to Biden.

“In five months between October 2022 and February 2023, Myanmar had the highest number of airstrikes with civilian casualties in the world. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), it recorded 34 air/drone strikes where there were civilian casualties in Myanmar, ahead of 8 and 6 in Yemen and Ethiopia respectively. Overall, there were a total of 226 air/drone strikes in Myanmar, when compared with 121 in Ukraine, in the same five month period.

“The junta can fund these heinous acts with the gas revenue payments received from companies like PTT [which operates the Yadana gas field].”

Mon Zin said that “in closed-door briefings”, from which Burmese democracy campaigners were excluded, Biden administration officials excused their refusal to impose sanctions on this gas export revenue going to the military coup regime on the basis that such a move might benefit China.

“Our guess is that another reason is their political interests in Thailand, where elections are coming up soon.”

Mon Zin said the campaign for the US to sanction MOGE now has the support of 611 international civil society organisations and international labour and student unions.

They are calling for the US to block revenue from Myanmar’s gas exports going to the military coup regime.

“This money does not belong to them but to the people of Myanmar and our democratically elected government,” Mon Zin said.

The funds could be put aside in an escrow (trust) account until the National League of Democracy government — elected in 2020, but deposed in the February, 2021, military coup — is reinstated.

That may not be far off, according to another Myanmar democracy activist, Maung Maung Than, secretary of the Australian Coalition for Democracy in Burma and veteran of the 1988 student uprising. He told GL in an earlier interview, that the resistance forces now control more than half of the country and the military coup regime only controls one-third.

Mon Zin said that the EU sanctions on MOGE are already having a strong impact, but the US’s failure to join makes that impact weaker.

“MOGE is the main source of foreign revenue income for the Myanmar junta," she said. "Blocking the gas revenue payments to MOGE would significantly impact the junta's ability to fund its war machine and save countless lives.” She called on the Australian government to sanction MOGE and freeze its accounts in Australia.

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