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Human-rights groups are calling on China's government to halt its investment in a multi-million-dollar gas project in Burma over fears of human-rights abuses and unrest. The group presented an open letter to China's President Hu Jintao in a petition at Chinese embassies in Asia, Australia and Europe.
More than 100 civic groups and political parties across 20 countries joined the petition Wednesday, asking China to halt a 980-kilometer pipeline in Burma. The Shwe gas pipeline project runs from Burma's Arakan state to China's Yunnan province.
Petition letters written by the Shwe Gas Movement were presented to Chinese embassies in Thailand, India, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, as well as in Australia and some European countries.
"We are not anti-Chinese, Western, whatever, but this [petition] is right because any investment in Burma is not beneficial to the local people," said Wong Aung, a spokesman for the Shwe Gas Movement. "We are concerned about the human rights and also the environment as well."
The gas field lies off the coast of Arakan State. State-owned China National Petroleum Corporation holds a majority stake in the project to develop the field. South Korea's Daewoo International is also an investor in the project.
The pipeline will transfer oil shipped from the Middle East and Africa as well as natural gas from the Shwe gas fields to China. Rights groups expect the project to provide Burma's military with at least $29 billion over 30 years.
The Alternative ASEAN Network rights group says energy projects in Burma have led to thousands of people being displaced and increased militarization of the country.
"People often overlook the economic costs of human rights violations," said Debbie Stothardt, the network's spokeswoman. "In the case of the Shwe gas twin pipelines, which are going to slice throughout the length of Burma, it is pretty clear that those long-term and mid-term economic costs are going to be very high; not just in Burma, but on the entire region."
The United States and many other countries have imposed economic sanctions on Burma's government because of widespread rights abuses. But China, India and Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand continue to invest in the country.
Economist Somphob Manarangsan, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says Thai and Chinese investment has aided Burma's military government.
"Frankly speaking the Burmese government has become stronger economically on the foreign exchange they obtain in selling the natural gas to Thailand," said Somphob Manarangsan. "You can see that China has been aggressive moving to invest in Burma, including the energy, like natural gas or petroleum and particularly the hydropower."
Shwe Global said abuses appeared to have started in the project area, including attacks on local fishermen. It says authorities are confiscating private land along the pipeline in Arakan and there are fears there could be violence between the army and ethnic militants as the pipeline is stretched into border areas.