Australia's Woodside CEO says Myanmar coup won't affect exploration plans

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s Woodside Petroleum sees the military coup in Myanmar as “a transitionary issue” that would not affect its drilling in waters off the Southeast Asian nation, its chief executive said.

FILE PHOTO: Woodside Petroleum Chief Executive Peter Coleman attends an interview with Reuters in Hong Kong, China March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

His comments came as Australia, India, Japan and the United States called for democracy to be restored quickly in Myanmar two weeks after the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Woodside Chief Executive Peter Coleman said the company does not see the coup holding back gas exploration work this year, including pre-engineering work for the A-6 gas field, which Woodside plans to develop with France’s Total SA.

“At the moment we see this as being a transitionary issue. You’ve got an emerging democracy working through their processes,” Coleman told Reuters.

“I look at it and say in the fullness of time the Myanmar people will work this out. At the moment the military’s committed to having free elections within 12 months....We hope that that’s in fact what will occur, and we’ll watch this very closely.”

Woodside is not facing any diplomatic pressure to pull back, Coleman said, adding it was very unlikely U.S. sanctions would get in the way of Woodside’s work.

“The U.S. sanctions at the moment have been on individuals, and that’s typically where the U.S. has been,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

“I think Western governments are very cautious about their approach to Myanmar at the moment, understanding the more sanctions they put on the more they could drive the military government towards the Chinese and others to look for support.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been taking to the streets almost daily across Myanmar demanding a reversal of the Feb. 1 coup. Police have broken up the demonstrations and one protester shot in the head last week died on Friday.

Many protesters are calling for a boycott on companies that do business with the military. Coleman said Woodside has not been a target of any protests.

In a separate statement late on Friday, Woodside said Coleman’s comments were not meant to condone “what has occurred in Myanmar”. The company had pledged to continuing operations in the country while complying with anti-corruption regulations in the United States and the United Kingdom, and applicable sanctions, it added.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Kim Coghill and Lincoln Feast.