A Myanmar energy worker on an offshore natural gas platform in the Yadana gas field. Photo: Total

The European Union is in a state of flux over its planned fourth round of sanctions on Myanmar’s military junta, with sources saying the targeted measures that were supposed to be announced next Tuesday (February 1) could be delayed until later in February.  

A diplomatic source who requested anonymity said originally the sanctions were going to be publicly announced on February 1 – the first anniversary of the military coup – but are now likely to be unveiled later in the month after a last-minute interjection by some member states.

Asia Times understands that the delay revolves around whether to sanction the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which has deep links with the military and is one of the largest financial contributors to the junta regime. 

TotalEnergies, a French-owned energy giant, which had operated an offshore gas field with MOGE for years, announced its withdrawal from the country last week as well as its support for harsher EU sanctions against Myanmar’s oil and gas sector, a major contributor to the junta’s revenue. 

The EU typically takes longer than the likes of the US or Britain to impose international sanctions due to the fact it requires consent from the 26 member states and must undergo lengthy legal checks to ensure the sanctions cannot be contested at the European Court of Justice.  

Brussels has so far imposed three tranches of economic sanctions on individuals and businesses tied to the military junta that took power almost a year ago after ousting the democratically-elected government of the National League of Democracy (NLD). 

In recent weeks, several senior NLD officials, including deposed State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, were sentenced to several years in prison on allegedly trumped-up charges. 

Various political sources contacted by this correspondent were unsure of the date the latest EU sanctions would be announced. A mid-level official in the European Commission still thought the sanctions would be publicly confirmed next week and implemented later in the month, perhaps February 21.

But a senior source from the international NGO community said they had been told the announcement will instead be made on February 21, putting the delay down to technical issues “as well as [some member states] arguing that to sanction around the anniversary means they would have to sanction every year around the anniversary,” the source said.

Anti-coup protesters show their support for Myanmar’s National Unity Government. Photo: Jose Lopes Amaral / NurPhoto via AFP

A high-ranking member of the National Unity Government (NUG) – Myanmar’s rival government that launched a people’s “resistance war” against the junta last September – said “most” EU member states wanted February 1 as the day to announce the sanctions. But a few unnamed members argued late in the day for sanctions to also be imposed on MOGE, which was not thought have been included in the previously agreed list of sanctioned firms, the NUG member said.

“MOGE and Myanmar’s oil and gas sector are the highest-earning sector and the main economic or financial pillars of the terrorist military junta,” Zin Mar Aung, the NUG’s foreign affairs minister, told Asia Times.

“Therefore, the withdrawal of oil and gas companies and sanctions against MOGE will starve the junta of cash and limit their ability to buy weapons to inflict harm on civilian populations.”   

Oil and gas revenues make up about 50% of the junta’s foreign currency needs, noted Yadanar Maung, a spokeswoman for Justice For Myanmar, a group that monitors the military’s abuses. 

“This foreign currency,” she said, “is necessary to purchase military equipment, including weapons from Russia and China, and thereby supports the military’s brutal operations against the people of Myanmar.”

An EU spokesperson refused to comment on the matter. “The process of preparing, discussing and adopting listings is confidential,” he said. “In order to respect the confidentiality of this process, we are not in a position to share any further information.”

Analysts said it is possible that the announcement made last week by global energy firms TotalEnergies and US-owned Chevron that they are pulling out of Myanmar, citing a worsening human rights situation, was the reason for the EU’s delays.  

TotalEnergies said publicly that it supported further sanctions on the junta and reportedly appealed to the American and French governments to introduce targeted measures against Myanmar’s oil and gas funds.

TotalEnergies operates the Yadana offshore gas project along with Chevron, Thailand’s PTT Exploration & Production and Myanmar’s MOGE. TotalEnergies has a majority stake in the venture and runs its daily operations, while MOGE collects the revenue on behalf of the Myanmar state, whose bank accounts are now controlled by the junta. 

It is believed that TotalEnergies would only legally be able to stop contractual payments to MOGE, and therefore the military regime, if sanctions are imposed on the Myanmar gas firm.

TotalEnergies “will not only comply with any sanction decision from the European or American authorities but also supports the implementation of such targeted sanctions,” the firm’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanné, told Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, in a letter. 

French oil company TotalEnergies is set to withdraw from Myanmar. Photo: AFP / Martin Bureau

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: “The fact that both TotalEnergies and human rights groups now support sanctions on Myanmar’s gas revenues leaves the US and European Union without any excuses to delay action.”

In a company study reported by the press, MOGE said it expected to earn about US$1.5 billion from offshore and pipeline projects in the 2021-2022 financial year. 

MOGE accounts for roughly one 10th of Myanmar’s federal budget, explained Hunter Marston, a researcher on Southeast Asia at the Australian National University. “So cutting oil and gas profits flowing to the Myanmar military would singlehandedly pose a major disruption to the junta’s revenue stream,” he said. 

A European diplomatic official said recent statements by TotalEnergies and Chevron “seem to indicate that MOGE could soon be added to the sanctions list.” 

The United States, Britain and Canada imposed their latest round of sanctions on Myanmar in early December, although MOGE was not included in their lists of targeted entities.

Later that month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated the escalating violence in Myanmar, in which military forces are accused of targeting civilians, meant “increased international preventive action is required,” adding that “the EU also stands ready to impose further sanctions against the military regime.”

Junta forces are accused of killing more than 1,400 civilians since the coup almost a year ago, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group.

Follow David Hutt on Twitter at: @davidhuttjourno