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Warships on battlegear over boundary dispute: Myanmar refuses to suspend drilling

Wednesday November 05 2008 00:04:29 AM BDT

Tension is mounting over the intrusion of Myanmar vessels into Bangladesh territorial waters after Myanmar Tuesday said it will continue exploration of oil and gas in deep-sea blocks in the Bay of Bengal.(The New Nation )

Bangladesh on Sunday and Monday twice summoned the Myanmar envoy in Dhaka and lodged strong protest asking to stop exploration in Bangladesh territorial waters.

Foreign Adviser Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury yesterday told newsman that a high-level delegation to Myanmar, led by Foreign Secretary M Touhid Hossain, will try to defuse the current situation.

He said more substantive discussions on maritime boundary will take place on November 16 and 17 when a delegation from Myanmar, to be headed by a Deputy Minister, will come to Bangladesh.

The Foreign Adviser said, "It will be our endeavour to settle the issue diplomatically, for Bangladesh is a peace-loving country. But let it also be understood that we will do all that it takes to protect our sovereignty."

He said Bangladesh has so far refrained from energy exploration in disputed waters. "It is our hope Myanmar will do the same."

The World Bulleting, an online news source, referring Reuters news agency reported that Myanmar will press ahead with oil and gas exploration in deep-sea blocks in the Bay of Bengal despite Bangladesh's claim to the disputed area.

"We have no reason to stop the exploration activities since these blocks are located in our exclusive economic zone. We will go ahead with it," a senior official from Myanmar's Foreign Ministry told Reuters.

"We summoned the Bangladeshi Ambassador to the Foreign Ministry on November 2 and lodged a complaint against the intrusion of their naval ships into our territory, and told them to leave," the official told the news agency, declining to be named.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Myanmar overnight mobilized more war ships in the Bay of Bengal as diplomatic efforts were underway to resolve the row over the Yangon's attempt to explore hydrocarbon in disputed maritime boundary.

"The foreign secretary (Mohammad Touhid Hossain) is set to leave here for Yangon after midnight tonight in a bid to resolve the crisis," a foreign ministry spokesman told BSS.

He said Hossain would lead a high-powered three-member delegation as he was expected to hold a meeting with his Myanmar counterpart and ask the secluded country to remove all structures from the disputed waters until sea boundary was demarcated.

The foreign ministry comments came as defence ministry sources said Bangladesh Navy last night mobilized two more ships as Myanmar reinforced their position sending one more war ship near the disputed area.

"The five Bangladeshi and three Myanmar war ships were anchored at the disputed waters while our (navy) officers asked their counterparts to take away the rig installed to explore oil and gas," a defence official said preferring anonymity.

The South Korean rig, however, stopped operations and "the Myanmar navy so far showed nothing which can be called 'provocative'.

Foreign adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury earlier today reiterated Dhaka's position on resolving crisis through "diplomatic means, not by conflict".

"Bangladesh has so far refrained from energy exploration in disputed waters. It is our hope Myanmar will do the same . . . But let it also be understood that we will do all that it takes to protect our sovereignty," Chowdhury told journalists at his office.

Myanmar's oil and gas exploration bid began in the disputed territory at a time when the two next-door neighbours were in a dialogue to demarcate their maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal, believed to be full of mineral resources.

The first round of talks in April ended inconclusively in Dhaka while both the sides agreed to continue with the dialogue to reach a conclusion and meanwhile refrain from intruding into the disputed area for exploration.

During a recent visit of a leader of Myanmar's State Peace and Development Council to Bangladesh in October, Yangon re- assured Dhaka that they would not carryout any gas exploratory work in the disputed maritime boundary area until the issue could be settled.

Bangladesh shares the Bay with India and Myanmar but has not demarcated the sea territory with them and this is creating dispute mainly in offshore oil and gas explorations.

Officials said none of the countries so far claimed their marine boundaries before the United Nations (UN) so far as India and Myanmar need to solve the maritime boundary issues with Bangladesh as they are set to file their claim to the UN next year under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

But Dhaka and New Delhi in September this year held a three- day technical talks in the Bangladesh capital after a pause of 28 years, while the two countries only agreed further discussions to settle the issue the officials could not reach any agreement on the mid-flow of the cross- boundary Hariabhanga river, considered crucial for demarcation of maritime border.

Bangladesh needs to lodge claims over its maritime boundary to the International Seabed Authority by 2011 as per the UNCLOS deadline by 2011


The New Nation

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