U.S. Senators Press for Myanmar Oil Investment

WASHINGTON (AFP)--U.S. senators said Wednesday that they planned to move quickly to confirm the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar in two decades but pushed to allow investment in the country's oil and gas sector.

President Barack Obama on May 17 nominated Derek Mitchell, a veteran U.S. policymaker on Asia, as ambassador to the country after dramatic reforms including the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

At a hearing on the nomination, senators across party lines voiced support for Mitchell. Sen. Jim Webb, who heads a subcommittee on East Asia, said he hoped to complete Mr. Mitchell's confirmation by the end of the week.

But senators pressed the Obama administration to allow investment by U.S. energy companies as part of its loosening of sanctions on Myanmar, voicing fear that U.S. companies would lose out to foreign competitors.

Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and champion of the fossil fuel industry, said he heard rumors that the administration will exclude oil firms from new rules allowing U.S. investment in the country formerly known as Burma.

"This or any other 'carve-out strategy' would be a strategic mistake," Mr. Inhofe told the hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"I believe that U.S. companies including the oil and gas companies can play a positive role in the effort by demonstrating high standards of responsibility, responsible business conduct and transparency--including respect for human rights in Burma," Mr. Inhofe said.

Human rights groups have long charged that the oil and gas industry fuels abuses inside Myanmar, with villagers allegedly forced into labor and the powerful military seizing the revenue to support its operations.

Ms. Suu Kyi, paying a historic tour of Europe, said in Geneva on June 14 that foreign firms shouldn't partner with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise until her country signs up to international standards such as the International Monetary Fund code on transparency.


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