Suu Kyi Visit Revives Norway-Junta Oil Row

By The Irrawaddy 15 June 2012

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Oslo on Friday to belatedly collect her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize has reignited calls for a probe into Norway’s ties to Burma’s crony-run oil and gas industries.

Activists have called on the Norwegian government to investigate whether offshore drilling giant Seadrill violated sanctions last year when its rig performed exploratory work in a gas field co-owned by the sons of former junta Industry Minister Aung Thaung.

“The Norwegian government should investigate all matters of inappropriate behavior in business that is related to nepotism and corruption,” Espen Skran a spokesperson for the Norwegian Burma Committee, told The Irrawaddy.

Meanwhile, Suu Kyi told delegates of the International Labour Organization on Thursday that, “investment in the extractive industries should be approached with particular care.”

“What I would like to see for our country is democracy-friendly development growth,” she said. “I would like to call for aid and investment that would strengthen the democratization progress by promoting social and economic progress that is beneficial to political reform.”

The European Union eased trade sanctions on Burma in the wake of reformist President Thein Sein’s tentative program of democratization, but calls remain to investigate those who sought to circumnavigate restrictive measures while they were in place.

Aung Thaung, now serving as an MP in Burma’s Lower House of Parliament, is considered by many in Burma’s opposition to have played a key role in organizing the Depayin massacre of May 2003 when a mob of stick-wielding junta thugs attacked Suu Kyi’s convoy and killed several of her supporters.

The M1 block where Seadrill’s West Juno rig conducted drilling work in May and early June 2011 is co-owned by UNOG Pte Ltd, which is owned by two of Aung Thaung’s sons—Nay Aung, who serves as the firm’s chairman, and Pyi Aung.

Seadrill’s work in the M1 block came despite Nay Aung and Pyi Aung being named on the EU sanctions list in effect at the time. Although Norway is not in the EU, Oslo officially adopted the EU’s Burma sanctions program until they were largely lifted in May.

Suu Kyi told a press conference in Geneva on Thursday that she does not think controversial oil giants Total or Chevron should withdraw from Burma. The two firms both had business interests inside the country before the imposition of trade sanctions and were therefore allowed to continue working inside the country.

“I find that Total is a responsible investor … it is sensitive to human rights,” she said. The presence of both companies in Burma has been contested by human rights activists who accuse them of enriching the former military junta. In response, Total argues that it contributes to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation’s development.

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