France’s TotalEnergies has endorsed targeted sanctions on gas revenues in Myanmar, a shift that campaigners said could hit a significant source of funding for General Min Aung Hlaing’s military junta.
The French energy giant’s chief executive Patrick Pouyanné acknowledged support for the sanctions in a letter to Human Rights Watch, which alongside other rights groups has been pressing the oil major to stop payments to entities controlled by Myanmar’s junta.
“I can confirm that our company has, during the past few months, had exchanges with the French and American authorities concerning the implementation of targeted sanctions on financial flows,” Pouyanné wrote in the letter published by Human Rights Watch late on Thursday.
“They are fully aware that TotalEnergies will not only comply with any sanction decision from the European or American authorities, but also supports the implementation of such targeted sanctions.”
Natural gas projects generate more than $1bn per year for Myanmar’s junta, which seized power from elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup last year and has arrested or killed thousands of people in a crackdown.
Total operates Myanmar’s Yadana offshore gas platform and its pipelines with state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, Chevron, and Thai group PTT as junior partners. The French and US energy groups have faced pressure since the coup from civil society groups, foreign campaigners and some institutional investors in Myanmar to cut off tax and other payments to MOGE.
Total and Chevron have in the past resisted those efforts, arguing that withholding tax revenue might put their local staff at risk or disrupt operations at Yadana, which supplies gas to Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and to western Thailand.
Chevron and PTT did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Human Rights Watch called on the US and France to reach a common position on imposing sanctions.
Since the coup, Myanmar has become a reputational minefield for multinational companies doing business that brings them in contact with the military regime. Norwegian telecom Telenor has been struggling to exit the country for more than a year.
On Friday, a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed a Reuters report that Lebanese telecoms group M1 would partner with Myanmar’s Shwe Byain Phyu Group to bid for Telenor’s business in the south-east Asian country.
The Norwegian state-backed group agreed last year to sell the business to M1 for $105m after facing pressure from the regime to install communications interception technology. But the regime sidelined the sale, demanding M1 take on a local partner to bid.
Myanmar’s military leaders have now approved a partnership between M1 and Shwe Byain Phyu to buy Telenor’s domestic business, with the Myanmar group to hold a majority share, according to the person with knowledge of the deal.
Telenor said that it had applied for regulatory approval to sell its Myanmar unit but declined to comment further on what it called “speculation.”
Campaigners who have been pressing Telenor to exit Myanmar responsibly on Friday criticised M1’s local partner Shwe Byain Phyu, whose chair Thein Win Zaw is director of a company that is an investor in military-owned telecom Mytel.
Advocacy group Justice for Myanmar urged Telenor to suspend the sale. “Shwe Byain Phyu is a conglomerate with known links to the Myanmar military, and M1 has a long history of doing business with authoritarian regimes,” the group told the Financial Times. “They cannot be trusted to respect human rights.”
M1 and Shwe Byain Phyu could not be reached for comment.
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