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LA Times, AFP: US firm may be liabl

Subject: LA Times, AFP: US firm may be liable for Myanmar's human-rights  abuses 04/18/97

APR 18 1997

     US firm may be liable for Myanmar's
     human-rights abuses

     LOS ANGELES -- In a landmark ruling with implications for US companies
     operating abroad, a federal judge has held that Unocal Corp can be
held liable
     for human rights abuses allegedly committed by the government of

     In denying Unocal's motion to dismiss a lawsuit by opponents of
     regime, US District Judge Richard Paez said that the company's
payments to
     military leaders for providing labour and security -- in spite of
     allegations of forced labour and abuse -- would be akin to
"participation in slave
     trading" if such abuses were proven in court.

     Although it faces a vigorous appeal, the March 25 ruling is considered
 a crucial
     victory for the opponents of the Myanmar regime.

     Legal and human rights experts said that the ruling was the first in
which a federal
     court has ruled that under international and US laws, American
companies could
     be liable for human rights abuses committed by their partners in
another country.

     Human rights activists said the win in this unusual civil case would
     corporations on notice that they were answerable not only for their
     overseas behaviour, but also for that of foreign companies they
     themselves with.

     Unocal is a partner with the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise
 in a
     US$1.2-billion (S$1.7-billion) pipeline project in that country.

     Unocal also pays the government to provide labour and security on the

     The judge ruled that another private-sector partner, the French oil
firm Total,
     could also be held liable for Myanmar's actions.

     Judge Paez's ruling came in a lawsuit filed here by activist lawyers
on behalf of
     indigenous farmers in the Tenasserim region of Myanmar.

     The suit contends that the farmers and their families were forced to
relocate and
     work on the pipeline project, beaten and otherwise abused by troops
     to protect the project.

     The plaintiffs want Unocal to withdraw from Myanmar and pay damages to
     people living in the pipeline region.

     Unocal has said repeatedly that it has investigated claims of forced
labour and
     land confiscation in connection with the pipeline project, and found
no evidence
     of it.

     Unocal President John Imle expressed disappointment in the ruling and
said that
     the company would fight the "false allegations" vigorously in court.

     While dozens of US companies have pulled out of Myanmar in recent
     Unocal has stood firm, making it a lightning rod in the debate over US
     towards the country.

     US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Tuesday stepped up
pressure on
     the Myanmar leadership.

     Noting Yangon's crackdown on political expression and jailing of
     demonstrators, she said: "Myanmar leaders are on notice that, unless
the clouds
     of repression are lifted, they will face investment sanctions under US

     A law passed last year allows President Bill Clinton to ban new US
     in Myanmar if the country's military government arrests, harms, or
     opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi or suppresses her followers on a

     State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns called Mrs Albright's
statement "a
     stiffening of the American position". -- LA Times, AFP.

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