In Exxon suit, judge leaves opening for villagers

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge has left a small legal opening for some Indonesian villagers to pursue a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corp. for human rights abuses allegedly committed by Indonesian troops guarding an Exxon natural gas field.

In a decision last year, the Supreme Court drastically limited the ability of foreign victims of human rights abuses to use American courts to seek monetary damages for their suffering. However, the Supreme Court said claims that "touch and concern the territory of the United States" might be allowed to go forward. The Supreme Court provided little guidance on the definition of "touch and concern," except to say that "mere corporate presence" in the U.S. would not suffice.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that lawyers for the villagers should be given the opportunity to amend their lawsuit in light of the Supreme Court's decision.

Lamberth said he "must determine what U.S.-based conduct is alleged."

Lawyers for the villagers say that Exxon provided money for weapons, supplies and equipment for security at the company's Indonesian gas field in the province of Aceh. Lamberth said, however, that the villagers' lawyers have not said where this support was planned or if any of the support came from the United States.

Indonesian soldiers hired by Exxon allegedly injured 15 Indonesian citizens.

Exxon spokesman David Eglinton said: "The decision is preliminary and does not reach any legal or factual conclusions about ExxonMobil's conduct or liability."

"We have fought these baseless claims for many years," he said. "The plaintiffs' claims are without merit. While conducting its business in Indonesia, ExxonMobil has worked for generations to improve the quality of life in Aceh through employment of local workers, provision of health services and extensive community investment."

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