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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
US firm sued over Burma 'abuse'
The pipeline was completed in 1998
A US energy company is to stand trial over claims of human rights abuses in Burma.

"For the first time in any place, we are holding an American corporation liable for human rights abuses committed abroad," said Dan Stormer, who is representing the plaintiffs which are Burmese citizens and refugees.

Unocal will appear before a jury trial in Los Angeles September over allegations of using slave labour and forcibly relocating residents while building a $1.3bn pipeline through Myanmar, known as Burma.

US-based campaign group the International Labour Rights Fund, which has bought the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, claims that Unocal had acted in conjunction with Burma's military regime.

"The evidence shows that Unocal entered into a business relationship with the brutal military regime in Burma, knowing that the military would engage in massive human rights violations in furtherance of the project," the fund said.

But the firm, the biggest remaining US investor in Burma, has denied any wrongdoing, and has dismissed the case as an attempt to withdraw from the country.

"The attempt is to continually try to embarrass us," company spokesman Barry Lane said.

"We have nothing to be embarrassed about. We are very proud of the project and how it is being conducted."

Torture allegations

Unocal has since 1996 been pursued by human rights activists who have sought redress on behalf of Burmese villagers.

The activists have tried to hold the US company liable for the use of forced labour, torture and other crimes committed by the military regime while building the Yadana pipeline, which has been feeding a Thai energy plant since 1998.

The Myanmar regime holds a 15% stake in the project and the Thai energy firm PTT Exploration and Production holds about 26%.

'Engagement' need

Unocal has not denied any knowledge of the human rights abuse, but it has insisted that it could not be held responsible for its business partner's actions.

It has also insisted that its involvement in Burma could help bring about change.

"History will show you, around the world, that the only way you are going to bring about change is engagement, you are not going to do it with isolation," a spokesman said.


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