PARIS: French oil and gas group Total said it would not stop producing gas on its Yadana fields in Myanmar as long as operations remained safe, in part to protect employees there who might otherwise risk repercussions from the military junta.
Total has come under pressure from rights groups and Myanmar's parallel civilian government to review its operations amid allegations its payments on taxes were funding the military-controlled state.
In a newspaper column due to be published in France's Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, and released online, Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanne said the group had several reasons to keep its offshore Yadana site going.
It was concerned staff there could be exposed to forced labour under the junta if it did decide to stop production in protest at violence in Myanmar, Pouyanne said, and the group also did not want to cut off a major source of energy.
"Can we halt production of this gas that supplies electricity to a large population in Yangon, adding to their suffering?" Pouyanne said in the statement. "For their part, the Thai authorities have alerted us to the importance of this source of energy."
Located off Myanmar's southwest coast in the Gulf of Martaban, the Yadana fields produce gas for delivery to power plants in Thailand. They also supply Myanmar's domestic market, via an offshore pipeline built and operated by state energy firm Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
Pouyanne said Total had considered whether it should place payments on taxes owed to the state in Myanmar in an escrow account, as suggested by some campaigners, but said this could put local managers at odds with the law.
Total had so far not paid any of the US$4 million in monthly taxes it usually pays to the military government, Pouyanne added, "for the simple reason that the banking system no longer functions".
Total has halted new projects and drilling in Myanmar in response to the crisis, and Pouyanne said the group was "appalled by the repressive action taking place".
Myanmar security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protests on Saturday killing at least five people, a protester and media said, as the military stepped up its bid to stifle dissent with warrants for a further 20 high-profile critics.
Pouyanne added that Total would donate the equivalent of the taxes the group will have to pay to the Myanmar government to associations working towards human rights in the country.