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A federal appeals court reinstated a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of indigenous farmers of Myanmar, alleging Unocal Corp. was involved in human rights violations carried out by the country’s military. The allegations against the El Segundo, Calif.-based oil concern include being complicit in slavery, murder and rape, which the farmers say was carried out by the Southeast Asian nation’s military. The military provided the company with security and other amenities for the pipeline venture with the Myanmar government, formerly called Burma. “Our theory of the case is that they aided and abetted the military,” attorney Paul Hoffman said of Unocal. “They knew that slavery and murder was happening and they turned a blind eye to it.” The case involves 18 farmers who allege they were raped or enslaved by the military. Some of the plaintiffs are relatives of those they say were slain while construction of the pipeline was underway. The farmers may use American courts to sue Unocal, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, because of a federal law granting alleged victims of international human rights abuses that right. The decision reverses a federal judge who ruled that the Tenasserim region farmers did not have the right to sue in American courts. The appeals court, however, said the farmers could neither sue the Myanmar military nor French oil concern Total, which was also involved in the pipeline project. Barry Lane, a Unocal spokesman, said if human rights abuses occurred, they were not done at the company’s request, knowledge or behalf. “The project has an exemplary record, and that will ultimately be born out in court,” Lane said. No trial date is set. But the same farmers, who are seeking undisclosed damages, have lodged similar allegations in a California state court. Trial in that case is scheduled to start Feb. 4. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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