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Total fights rights groups, Burma j

Subject: Total fights rights groups, Burma jungles for

      By Rajan Moses 

    KANBAUK, Burma, Nov 22 (Reuter) - French oil giant Total SA <TOTF.PA>,
facing fierce opposition to its involvement in military-ruled Burma, is
engaged in a different kind of standoff in the remote jungles of the
impoverished Asian country. 

    It is fighting to tame the thick jungles of southeastern Burma to cut a
path for a 63-km (39-mile) gas pipeline that will join another from the giant
Yadana field in the Andaman Sea to pump gas overland to Thailand in 1998. 

    Total is also trying to win over thousands of poor Mon, Karen and Burmese
villagers living in the area who are baffled by a sudden strong foreign
presence in their midst and the pipeline that will change their lives

    ``This has been one of our most difficult onshore projects. The terrain
is so rough we have had to ship all our equipment in from Japan, Malaysia and
Singapore,'' said Herve Madeo, general manager of Total Myanmar Exploration
and Production (TMEP) during a press tour of the pipeline site. 

    Partners in the mammoth $1.2 billion gas project are Total with 31.24
pct, Unocal <UCL.N> with 28.26 percent, the Petroleum Authority of Thailand's
PTTEP <PTTE.BK> with 25.5 percent and Burma's Myanmar Oil and Gas Exploration
(MOGE) with 15. 

    Due to start in mid-1988, the project involves the piping of 650 million
cubic feet of gas a day from the Yadana platform via a submerged 346-km
(215-mile) pipeline that will hit the shore near the fishing village of

    From the beaches of Daminseik, the onshore pipeline will connect with the
offshore pipeline, snake through the hills and valleys and carry 525 million
cubic feet a day to Ban I Tong at the rugged border in Thailand. 

    The remainder will be for local use by Burma which plans to build a
fertiliser and power plant using the gas. 


    There is big money for the project owners from mid-1988. 

    Of the $400 million income generated annually in already-contracted gas
sales to Thailand for 30 years, Burma's cash-strapped ruling State Law and
Order Restoration Council (SLORC) will get 50 percent. 

    Total officials said Burma will start to realise the $200 million annual
revenue from the gas, after deductions for expenses from 1998, in the year

    The project has been dogged by controversy from the time it was signed in
1992. Human rights groups have accused Total of collaborating with the SLORC
to suppress freedom and promote forced labour. 

    The groups say Total is using forced labour recruited by the SLORC in the
pipeline area which runs through the forested southeastern Tenasserim
district. They say the work is damaging the lush environment there. 

    Burma's democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has described Total as a
strong supporter of the SLORC which has denied her movement the right to hold
gatherings and harassed hundreds of her supporters. 

    Total has denied all the accusations. ``We know there is controversy over
the project but part of the controversy is because of misinformation from
these groups,'' said Joseph Daniel, Total's vice-president for public

    Total's new and air-conditioned Kanbauk base camp, carved from the
jungle, houses the nerve centre of the onshore pipeline laying operation.
Helicopters are on standby for survey work and providing access to remote

    Bulldozers, heavy trucks and many thousands of tonnes of gleaming special
steel pipes imported from Italy have arrived by barge at Total's busy wharf.
Earthworks to lay the pipes are under way as a winding path is sliced through
the red earth. 

    ``We will start laying the pipes this month and work will be finished
around May next year,'' said Madeo, adding that about $600 million of the
billion-dollar project had already been spent. 

    The tough job of laying the offshore pipeline in the depths of the sea
from the Yadana platform will begin in mid-1997 and finish by the end of the
year, he added. 

    Despite foreign reports of resentment among villagers, an attack on the
project by rebels and major environmental problems, Total's 1,700 expatriate
and Burmese workers move about freely. 

    Burmese soldiers patrol the fringe areas which once used to be their
battlefield against Mon and Karen rebel guerrillas who have been pushed
further away. 

    Madeo said the only attack was in March last year when five members of
the pipeline team were killed and several wounded. SLORC troops provide
security in the outer corridor of the project. Security on the inside is
Total's responsibility. 

    Total pays Burmese workers recruited from villages more than 200 kyats
($1.25) a day, a sum which goes a long way in the remote area. 

    Compensation, lavish by rural standards, from a $700,000 budget is being
paid to move people living on the pipeline's route. Total is also funding
projects aimed at raising local living standards. 

01:04 11-22-96