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10/06/2012 16:10:00

WSJ: Total Reaching Out to Opposition Forces in Myanmar

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By Geraldine Amiel

French oil giant Total SA (FP.FR, TOT) is reaching out to opposition forces in Myanmar, where it operates an offshore natural gas field, as the company tries to adapt to new political reality in the Southeast Asian country.

Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie traveled to Myanmar over the weekend and met with longtime dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest in late 2010.

"I am pleased to see Aung San Suu Kyi free again!," Mr. de Margerie said in a Twitter message after the meeting on Saturday. "I'm delighted our discussions will continue," he added.

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal Web site, WSJ.com).

Many Western companies are going or returning to Myanmar as their governments are gradually easing sanctions against the country's military regime following Ms. Suu Kyi's release and the organization of general elections.

But Total must navigate a more delicate path because, in the past decade, the company resisted pressure to leave the country despite accusations by humanitarian activists that its continued presence made it complicit of a junta.

Total repeatedly rejected the accusations, saying it was bringing jobs and humanitarian relief to impoverished regions in Myanmar.

A spokesman for Ms. Suu Kyi said he had no knowledge of what transpired at the meeting with Mr. de Margerie.

Ms. Suu Kyi recently said while she was cautiously optimistic about political changes in Myanmar, foreign investors should remain cautious before committing to new projects because the still-powerful military must give further guarantees that it supports a democratic drive.

During his trip to Myanmar, Mr. de Margerie also met with the country's president Thein Sein, and the industry minister to discuss the group's activities there, a Total spokesman said.

Total began operations in Myanmar in 1992, signing a contract to develop the Yadana offshore gas field and ship the gas to Thailand via pipeline. Later that year, Total sold part of its interest in the field to Union Oil Company of California, or Unocal.

Production started in 2000 and since, Total has been producing about 15,000 barrels per day of oil equivalent from Yadana. Total owns 31% of the field; Chevron Corp. (CVX), which bought Unocal in 2005, owns 28%.

The U.S. imposed sanctions against all businesses and dollar transactions with Myanmar in 1997 but they were not retroactive. The European Union's sanctions targeted mainly the trading of wood, precious stones and ore. This allowed Total to keep on conducting its activities, though the group decided to avoid further investments.

In May, the European Union suspended most sanctions against Myanmar for a year. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said the U.S. was mulling a similar move.

Celine Fernandez contributed to this story

Write to Geraldine Amiel at geraldine.amiel@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 10, 2012 10:10 ET (14:10 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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