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Reuters-Premier Oil lambasted over
- Subject: Reuters-Premier Oil lambasted over
- From: tinkyi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 18 May 1999 21:37:00
Subject: Reuters-Premier Oil lambasted over role in Myanmar
Tuesday May 18, 3:34 pm Eastern Time
Premier Oil lambasted over role in Myanmar
By Mike Elliott
LONDON, May 18 (Reuters) - British explorer Premier Oil Plc, already under
fire from rebel shareholders seeking to overthrow its chief executive, on
Tuesday faced fresh criticism about its natural gas project in Myanmar.
Demonstrators outside the building where the group's annual general meeting
was being held called on shareholders to try to end Premier's involvement
with Myanmar's ``repressive regime.''
Rebel shareholders led by city lawyer Peter Felter have also called on it
get out of Myanmar (formerly Burma) because of the political risk.
``We are apolitical,'' Chief Executive Charles Jamieson told the annual
meeting. ``We do believe that constructive economic engagement in the
country is more likely to lead to development to the benefit of all the
people in that country.''
In March, Premier announced completion of the $158 million financing of its
key Yetagun gas project in Myanmar, one of the group's core areas along with
Britain, Pakistan and Indonesia.
In a statement, the demonstrators said that Premier's gas pipeline runs
through an area where 25,000 people have been forced from their homes and
where human rights abuses, such as forced labour, have been carried out by
the Myanmar military.
``We are certainly not aware of any abuses in our pipeline area,'' Jamieson
told the packed meeting, adding Premier was in control of all its
contractors in the area.
However, the veteran campaigning journalist John Pilger told Reuters before
attending the meeting: ``I have seen and filmed the forced and slave labour
in the area that Premier is building the pipeline and all the excuses it
makes amount to nothing.''
Pilger said that Premier was ``underwriting'' an illegitimate regime through
its investment in the country.
``I want it do what Aung San Suu Kyi has told me she wants it to do, and
that is get out and stop supporting this regime.''
Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi won a general
election in 1990 by a landslide, but the military subsequently ignored the
Demonstrators representing both the Burma Campaign UK and the World
Development Movement called on the British government to force Premier to
withdraw from Myanmar.
Graham Burgess, another rebel shareholder and a former Premier drilling
manager, asked whether any money would be left from having to finance debt
on the Yetagun project.
Recently installed Finance Director John van der Welle said that in the
early stages of the project, some two-thirds of net cash flow would be used
to repay debt involved in the project.
The rebels led by lawyer Felter -- who shook hands with all board members
before the AGM began -- want to replace Jamieson, who they blame for the
company's recent poor performance, with Felter. They are trying to get the
10 percent of shareholders needed to force an extraordinary general meeting.
Between them they hold just 150 shares in Premier, which compares with the
biggest shareholder Amerada Hess Corp (NYSE:AHC - news) -- which supports
the current management -- with 25 percent.
Van der Welle said the group had hedged some 26 percent of its estimated
1999 oil and gas production at a price of around $12 a barrel. This was done
earlier this year when the outlook for oil prices was bleaker -- North Sea
Brent now stands above $15.
When questioned over speculation that it had talks with British oil minnow
Paladin Resources Plc (quote from Yahoo! UK & Ireland: PLR.L) over a
possible merger, Chairman David John said: ``We did not receive any proposal
from Paladin which we agreed to be in shareholders' interests.''