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UPDATE 1-Ousted lawmakers, rights groups urge Total to suspend Myanmar payments

PARIS, March 16 (Reuters) - Myanmar’s parallel civilian government and rights groups on Tuesday called on Total and other oil firms operating in the country to suspend payments to the military-controlled state following last month’s coup.

The calls come a day after Total said it was worried about the situation in Myanmar, where scores have been killed in demonstrations against the Feb. 1 coup, while also stressing the importance of its gas projects in the energy-starved country.

“The coup has left international oil companies with operations in Myanmar with no option other than to suspend their relationships with the military junta,” the parallel civilian government said in a letter addressed to Total and posted on its official Facebook page.

The group of ousted lawmakers, formally known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, requested Total suspend revenue payments to Myanmar and place them in a protected account until a legitimate government is reinstated.

Total did not immediately have comment on the letter or upcoming payments due in Myanmar.

The letter, which was dated March 5 but published online on Tuesday, echoed earlier comments from the U.N.’s special rapporteur on Myanmar that the state energy firm Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) was now controlled by the military and its largest source of revenue.

Similar letters published online were also addressed to Malaysia’s Petronas, South Korea’s POSCO and Thailand’s PTTEP.

Total has been in Myanmar since 1992 developing gas fields which supply Myanmar’s domestic market in partnership with MOGE. In 2019, Total paid $229.6 million to Myanmar, including $178.6 million to MOGE for produced and sold gas and $51 million in taxes to the finance ministry.

“Total condemns violations of fundamental rights wherever they take place and will be aligned with any decisions on sanctions,” Total said in a statement on Monday, responding to an article about its Myanmar operations.

“As a reminder, Yadana supplies half of the electricity in Yangon,” it added.

Total, which operated under a previous period of military rule in Myanmar that ended in 2011, has repeatedly said the gas fields was exempt from previous sanctions and it was acting as a positively engaged actor in the country.

Total’s statement initially drew a response from activist group Justice for Myanmar which said the firm “should match words with action by suspending all payments to the illegal military junta”.

Other social media users also responded, including some in Myanmar who said they would prefer electricity to be cut off. (Reporting by Benjamin Mallet and John Geddie, Writing by Sarah White, Editing by Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan)

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