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Burma : Total & Kouchner see eye to eye

Burma / lundi 24 mars 2008 par Olivier Dours
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In Asia, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs never misses a chance to lend a hand to his pals at Total, who are getting bogged down in the Buddhist monks’ rebellion.

Total’s CEO, Christophe de Margerie, is determined to protect his company’s assets in Burma. On October 16, 2007, he rambled somewhat senselessly before the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission. In answer to a question put by Commission Chair Axel Poniatowski, de Margerie claimed that neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor representatives of the Burmese opposition had ever, “asked Total to leave.” He also boasted about the “opinion shared by a great number of people on the spot (i.e. in Burma) as well as all of the eyewitnesses who have been there, that Total’s activities are essential, and should be sustained in the interests of the Burmese people, for whom they are directly beneficial.”

Bizarre notions that the Burmese Prime Minister-in-exile, Dr. Sein Win, and his UN representative, Than Htun were quick to dispel during their recent stay in Paris, late last October. In actual fact, as far back as 1992, Burmese pro-democracy forces asked Total to abandon its project for a natural-gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand to produce electricity. To make matters worse, since it was put into service in 2000, they have never stopped pleading for the suspension of this financial windfall, which has already brought in some $3 billion to the Burmese generals’ regime. For the opposition, it is abundantly clear that Total has been indeed been essential… to the change in the junta’s status on the international scene, from disreputable “narco-dictatorship” to the more presentable “gas-pipeline-dictatorship.” At a press conference in Paris last October, Messrs. Sein Win and Than Htun expressed surprise that the letter they had addressed to the French government just before the meeting of the European Council in Luxembourg on October 8 had not been taken into account. In it, the Burmese government-in-exile requested the establishment of effective sanctions – which inevitably meant seizure or international control of natural-gas revenues. In actual fact, the European Ministers made haste to exclude fossil fuels from the scope of the sanctions. Decision which can surely be blamed on pressure from the French.

Burmese’s humour

When asked, “Who is your leader ?”, certain monks have been known to confess under torture, “His name is Siddhartha.” As the agitator’s identity and description was passed through the ranks of the uniformed hierarchy, in order to establish a warrant for his arrest anywhere in the country, one officer – slightly cleverer than the rest – realized that Siddhartha is the name of the historical Buddha born 2,500 years ago in Kapilavastu, now part of Nepal…

To console his woes, Christophe de Margerie can always go sob on Bernard Kouchner’s shoulders : after all, once upon a time, the high-spirited French Minister of Foreign Affairs was a consultant for Total-Burma. This week, the French doctor performed a strange belly dance in a neighboring country he was visiting. In Singapore on October 29, he came up with another suggestion based more on smoke and mirrors than true substance : a funding project for Burma that would allow the international community to finance micro-credits to assist the country’s development, on condition that the junta become more democratic. All under the auspices of the World Bank… which can no longer operate in Burma since the Americans vetoed it.

On October 30, 2007, in Bangkok, Kouchner laid it on even thicker by singing the praises of Total’s pipeline, which, he said, was beneficial for the people of Burma and Thailand. And again, on October 31 in Beijing, he tried to sweet talk Chinese leaders – to get them to reason with their Burmese protégés – by offhandedly mentioning that French president Nicolas Sarkozy could be convinced not to receive the Dalai Lama during his planned visit to Paris in August 2008. Unlike a certain George W. Bush. During his visit to Beijing in December 2007, President Sarkozy asked his Chinese counterpart to intercede with his Burmese protégés in order to have visas granted to Bernard Kouchner and Rama Yade, his Secretary of Human Rights –raising snickers in diplomatic circles around the region, but otherwise to no avail…

Translated by : Regan Kramer

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