The security situation in oil and gas producer Myanmar deteriorated further this week, with the army firing live and rubber bullets and using water cannons as increasing numbers of people took to the streets to protest against the 1 February military coup.
Despite one reported fatality and many injuries as security forces clashed with demonstrators in cities including Naypyidaw, Yangon and Mandalay on 9 February, hundreds of thousands of people were back on the streets the next morning.
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Others showed their support in their workplaces for the ousted democratically elected government, wearing red armbands and holding placards.
Photographs shared with Upstream show workers on Total’s Yadana offshore gas field and state-owned Myanma Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE) staff in a united call for restoration of the democratically elected civilian government.
A oil company source on the ground said that there was currently no intention, however, for workers to go on strike or shut down production following the coup.
A shift in political allegiance was becoming apparent as Upstream went to press with even some police midweek publicly declaring their support for civilians and joining protesters in their call for reversal of the coup.
Officers waved posters that read: “We do not need military dictatorship” and raised three-finger salutes, a symbol of resistance against the military, reported UK daily The Guardian, as security forces continued their forceful clampdown on the growing protests.
“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,” said Ola Almgren, the United Nations’ resident co-ordinator and humanitarian co-ordinator in Myanmar.
“I call on the security forces to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Almgren said this week.
Operators including Total and Australia’s Woodside — the latter which has an ongoing exploration campaign offshore Myanmar — declined to comment on the political stance of their workers, with a spokesperson for Total saying only that the company “is assessing the impact of the situation in Myanmar on our operations and projects.
“Our highest priority remains the safety of our personnel and their families, and contractors.”
However, the ever-fluid communications situation — domestic and international phone networks and internet services are sometimes erratic while social media has been clamped down on — is making it challenging for companies to monitor the safety of staff and keep logistics working.
The communications issue was highlighted over the weekend when Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas became aware of the plight of contractor personnel supporting operations at its producing Yetagun field offshore Myanmar.
Local reports claimed that around 150 workers were stranded on a barge offshore when they could not make contact with helicopter services to bring them to land.
“Petronas reassures that it is in close contact… and working closely with the contractor in overseeing the well-being of their workers and ensuring continuous supplies of essentials, including food, drinking water and fuel,” the Malaysian operator said.
Meanwhile, Woodside’s latest statement, dated 5 February, said that access to key infrastructure, such as airports and helicopter services, had been reinstated.
However, logistical challenges appear to be increasing across Myanmar as the anti-military protests spread to some 300 towns.
The Yangon Bus Service on 9 February said that it may have to reduce or stop some services in the commercial capital due to the number of compressed natural gas refuelling stations being closed.
The suspension of CNG refuelling stations was attributed to the escalating protests and MOGE staff participating in the civil disobedience movement, reported the Myanmar Times.
In addition, military-imposed curfews such as that between 8pm and 4am in Yangon are adding to the logistical challenges faced by the oil and gas industry that is already having to operate within Covid-19 protocols.
World leaders have continued to condemn the military coup and call for the democratically elected government to be reinstated, against the backdrop of growing local discontent.
“We cannot stay quiet,” youth leader Esther Ze Naw told Reuters on Wednesday.
“If there is blood shed during our peaceful protests, then there will be more if we let them take over the country.”