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BAT not to pull out of Myanmar

London, June 26 (AFP): British American Tobacco (BAT) today insisted it would keep doing business with Myanmar unless ordered to stop, despite Prime Minister Tony Blair saying it was wrong for British companies to deal with the military regime.

“At the moment, we have no intention of pulling out. That’s our position,” a spokesperson for the tobacco giant said.

Only if the British government or the European Union decided to impose sanctions on the country, “then we won’t do business there,” he said.

Japan ratcheted up the pressure on Myanmar over pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi today, warning it could reverse its engagement policy unless she is freed in the next few days.

International outrage is rising rapidly over Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, who has been in custody since May 30, with both Europe and the US threatening harsher sanctions if the junta does not release her.

Both Japan and Malaysia have asked that their diplomats be allowed to meet her.

BAT, which runs a cigarette factory employing 500 people in Myanmar, a joint venture with the country’s military dictatorship, was placed in the firing line yesterday after Blair hinted strongly he wanted them to pull out. Speaking in parliament, the Prime Minister said his government had made “the strongest possible representations” to Myanmar over the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the end of May.

Asked whether it was right for British companies to conduct business with the Yangon regime, Blair was blunt.

“We are making it clear to British companies that we do not believe this is appropriate in circumstances where this regime continues to suppress the basic human rights of its people,” he said.

BAT chairman Martin Broughton is due to meet junior foreign minister Mike ’Brien next week to discuss the issue.

, amid speculation the government will increase the pressure on the tobacco firm to pull out of the country.

However the BAT spokesperson rejected the idea that his firm was being “summoned” to the foreign office, saying the meeting was at BAT’s request.

“What we’ve always said is that we’re a business. We’re not the government, or an international statesman. We’ll do business in countries if it is legal to do so.”

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