Thursday, March 6, 2008

Belgium drops Myanmar rights case against Total

BRUSSELS (AFP) — Belgian authorities dropped Wednesday a legal case brought by refugees from Myanmar targetting the French oil group Total, which they accused of crimes against humanity, their lawyer said.

Investigators looking in to the matter "declared the case closed," lawyer Xavier Deswaef told AFP, describing the decision as "surreal".

Although his clients could lodge one final appeal against the decision, they would "think twice before" pursuing further action, Deswaef said.

Last October, Belgian authorities reopened the long-running case in which the refugees accused Total of having used forced labour provided by the military regime to build a gas pipeline.

The four refugees accuse Total of having provided logistic and financial support in the 1990s to the military junta, which they hold responsable for forced labour, deportations, murder, arbitrary executions and torture.

Total has also faced legal action in France against its labour practices in Myanmar, where it has operated since 1992.

But last year the group was cleared of charges in France that it relied on forced labour to build the 1.2-billion-dollar (785-billion-euro) gas pipeline after an out-of-court settlement with the alleged victims.

The Belgian case has run for six years, during which changes to the law have muddied the judicial waters.

However, the court ruled that the defendants should benefit from a 2005 decision in their favour, even though the relevant legislation had subsequently been toughened up.

Source: AFP.

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