Date: Sat, 18 Nov 1995 20:39:29 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <>
Subject: Aditjondro: East Timor/Burma connection

/** reg.easttimor: 396.0 **/
** Topic: GJA: East Timor/Burma connection **
** Written 7:23 PM Nov 10, 1995 by in cdp:reg.easttimor **
From: "S.&/orL. Snow" <>

(From Indonesia-l conference)
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 15:17:06 +0800
From: (George Aditjondro)
Subject: East Timor-Burma conncection

The "Burmese" connection in the Timor Gap dispute

By George J. Aditjondro. 9 November, 1995

SOME pro-democracy activists in Burma had asked me, whether a campaign against the oil company Unocal would also helped the cause of East Timor. This has led me to investigate the oil companies role in the East Timor dispute, and interestingly enough, I found a historical "Burmese connection" in the Timor Gap case. Burmah Oil, a British company was set up in Burma during the colonial time to drill oil in what was then the first British-controlled territory where oil was discovered. The company was founded by Lord Strathcona, a rich Scots millionaire who had financed the Canadian Pacific Railway, and grew instantly into a big oil company thanks to the orders from the British imperial Navy.

After Burma's independence in 1948, but especially after General Ne Win's Revolutionary Council took over power in 1962, Burmah Oil's fixed assets in Burma was nationalized, becoming first the People's Oil Company and later Myanma Oil. In the mean time, the company had moved out of Burma, maintained the name Burmah Oil, and operated in India through a joint venture with Shell. It also relied on their 23% share in British Petroleum (see Anthony Sampson, 1975. The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Made. Coronet Books, pp. 67-71; and Mark Selden (ed), 1974. Remaking Asia: Essays on the American Uses of Power, Pantheon Books, pp.32-33, 204, 218).

This very same company is involved in the Timor Gap, through its joint-venture with Woodside Petroleum. Together with the Australian company BHP, Burmah Oil was part of the "oil lobby" which pushed the Australian PM Gough Whitlam into yielding to the Indonesian ambition to annex East Timor. After losing its base in Burma, Timor eventually promised a new bonanza to Burmah Oil, since it had began to explore for oil on-shore and off-shore East Timor in the early 1970s, which indicated the existence of profitable oil and gas deposits in the Portuguese territory. In fact, Jose Ramos-Horta's older brother, Antonio, was a small "oil magnate" in Bualaka, where he produced half a dozen barrels of diesel and gasoline a month, from crude oil extracted from three wells in his village (see Ramos-Horta's Funu, 1987: 11).

Here we see then a similar historical 'fate' of Burma and East Timor: Burma was annexed by the British colonial masters and added into the British Indian empire, because of the oil discovery in that territory, while East Timor was also annexed by Indonesia partly (or primarily?) because of the oil discoveries in that territory.

I have briefly discussed this episode from the Burmese -- and Burmah Oil -- history in my chapter in a new book on Mining & Indigenous Peoples in Aspac, edited by Connel, Howitt, and Hirsch. The title of that chapter is "Sacrificing the poor-people's fish for the rich people's oil: questions on sovereignty and natural resources in the Timor Sea," because it deals with the way the Indonesian government has sacrificed the traditional fishing rights of East Indonesian indigenous fisherfolks for Australia's support for the annexation of East Timor -- to be able to divide the loot with Australia and the Western oil companies.

But the important thing is: what can we do against this "Burmese" connection? Or, in a broader sense, what can we do against all the oil companies which have unlawfully began to exploit the oil and natural gas in the Timor Gap? Boycott them, or what? During my last visit to Sydney, I saw a couple of Burmah Oil stations along the road to the Norhtern coastal suburbs. . .

George J. Aditjondro
(Murdoch University, Perth,
West Australia)

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