Burma: US Oil Giant Pulls Out of Country

YANGON -- Oil services provider Baker Hughes has become the latest United States firm to pull out of Burma, human rights campaigners and the firm's local partner said Wednesday.

Baker Hughes is transferring its interest in an exploration project in the
Mann oil fields in northern Burma (also known as Myanmar) to its associate in Yangon, Myanmar Petroleum Resources Limited (MPRL).

Campaigners opposed to Burma's junta immediately hailed the decision as
proof that a campaign to isolate military leaders accused of flagrant human rights abuses was working.

"We are pleased with Baker Hughes' action," said Pam Wellner of the No
Petro-dollars for SLORC campaign. The SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) was the former name of the junta, which now refers to itself as the State Peace and Development Council.

The managing director of the firm's local partner however denied that the
move was motivated by political considerations.

"There is nothing political, it is about (Baker Hughes') restructuring ...
the political situation does not affect MPRL at all," said Moe Myint in an interview with AFP.

"The project will be there, with the blessing of the investors, the
investment commission, the cabinet, the project will continue."

"We are continuing (the project) with the same project team and we are
increasing the production ... We are not scaling back."

The statement from No Petro-dollars for SLORC speculated that the firm may
have been unwilling to continue fighting the campaign against investment in Myanmar or could have been put off by rising corruption.

It also said that a campaign by shareholders questioning the company's
involvement in Myanmar may have been behind the decision.

"Doing business in Burma under current circumstances greatly benefits the
military junta, and Baker Hughes joins the long list of companies (including Texaco, Arco and PepsiCo) who have done the right thing," said Wellner.

Firms with links to alleged totalitarian regimes are also currently eyeing
a US Supreme Court case on the Massachusetts Law which is aimed at economically penalising the junta.

The statute, undertaken by several US states and cities, adds a 10 percent
penalty on companies who do business in Myanmar when they bid on government procurement contracts -- effectively barring them from winning the contracts.

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