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Myanmar removes equipment from disputed waters

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November 10, 2008

Myanmar-Bangladesh Maritime Dispute:
Myanmar removes equipment from disputed waters

Myanmar removed natural-gas exploration equipment from a zone in the Bay of Bengal claimed by Bangladesh, defusing a weeklong dispute between the neighbors, reported Bloomberg.

Myanmar's official media said the move was technical, as the South Korean company undertaking the exploration work had completed its seismic survey and shifted to another area.

Bangladesh and Myanmar mobilised their frontier forces late last week as the dispute over the gas deposit intensified, the Press Trust of India reported. The impoverished neighbors have failed to agree on a maritime border as they vie to control as much of the potentially energy rich Bay of Bengal as possible.

“The necessary survey was completed,'' the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said yesterday. ``Continued tasks will be undertaken according to the work programme.''

Bangladesh deployed warships to the area about 93 kilometers (58 miles) southwest of St. Martin's island last week after a Myanmar ship, escorted by three naval vessels, began oil and gas exploration. Bangladesh summoned Myanmar's ambassador before sending envoys to the nation formerly known as Burma.

Foreign Secretary Touhid Hossain said yesterday after returning from talks with Myanmar officials that the removal of the rig paved the way for ``reducing the tension,'' PTI said.

Hossain met with Myanmar's Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Maung Myit, who is due to arrive in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, on Nov. 16 to continue talks on the disputed waters.

Myanmar's military junta didn't want to withdraw the exploration equipment, Hossain said, adding that it was unclear whether its removal was due to a government order or a ``unilateral decision of the South Korean company.''

Myanmar said in a statement last week that Bangladesh had ``lawlessly demanded that the drilling should be suspended.'' It said that the drilling would carry on until it was concluded ``to protect the interests of our country.''

China, a key ally of Myanmar, late last week called on the countries to settle the dispute ``through equal and friendly negotiations.'' China last year won the rights to buy gas from Myanmar's biggest field.

Myanmar had 21.19 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves, or 0.3 percent of the world's total, while Bangladesh had 13.77 trillion cubic feet, or 0.2 percent, at the end of 2007, according to BP Plc. Most is located in the Bay of Bengal.

Myanmar and Bangladesh had per capita gross domestic product of $1,900 and $1,400 respectively in 2007, according to US government data.

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