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Monday, November 3, 2008
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Myanmar brings warships to explore Bangladesh waters

3 naval ships challenge oil and gas exploration inside Bangladesh territory; Myanmar envoy summoned to hand Dhaka's stern warning

Escorted by two naval warships, Myanmar has arbitrarily deployed four ships for exploring oil and gas in Bangladesh maritime territory Saturday ignoring Bangladesh Navy warnings. Bangladesh Navy has also positioned three ships at the spot.

As Myanmar ignored the warnings, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Towhid Hossain yesterday handed over a protest letter to Myanmar's ambassador in Dhaka Yu Fae Than U demanding withdrawal of the ships from the area until the maritime boundary is clearly demarcated through mutual understanding as per the UN guideline.

According to a press note, the Myanmar ambassador was requested to convey the protest note to his government. Bangladesh requested Myanmar to stop all its activities there as per Bangladesh Government's 1974 Territorial Water and Maritimes Zones Act and added that the government has the right to protect its interest.

Sources said Myanmar's ships started the exploration 50 nautical miles southwest of St Martin's Island. A South Korean company was awarded the oil and gas exploration contract there.

Three naval ships of Bangladesh--BNS Abu Bakar, BNS Madhumati and BNS Nirvoy--went to the spot challenging the Myanmarese ships but the Myanmar Navy responded by alleging that the Bangladesh Navy ships are trespassing.

The commanding officer of BNS Abu Bakar is currently in a dialogue with the officers of Myanmar's naval ships there, sources said.

"The Myanmar Navy told Bangladesh Navy that they have instructions from their government to come to these waters and they suggested that our navy should talk to our high-ups," said a source quoting Bangladesh Navy.

At least 50 people were working in the four exploration ships, two of which are registered in the Bahamas, one in Belize and one in India.

A competent government source said the spot was "well inside" Bangladesh maritime boundary.

Foreign Secretary Md Touhid Hossain told the press yesterday that the dispute could be resolved through dialogue as Bangladesh has very good relations with Myanmar.

Additional Foreign Secretary MAK Mahmood, who led the Bangladesh-Myanmar maritime delimitation talks in Dhaka in September, said the matter will be raised at the upcoming talks with Myanmar on November 16 and 17.

Mahmood pointed out that Bangladesh would also ask the South Korean company not to conduct the exploration work in the disputed area.

He added that Bangladesh would also sit with India on the maritime boundary issue later this month.

The Bay of Bengal has become very important, especially after India's discovery of 100 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2005-06 and Myanmar's discovery of seven trillion cubic feet of gas during the same time. India also discovered oil.

The Bay in Bangladesh's territory promises huge natural resources, experts say. The Daily Star reported in 2006 discovery of sedimentary rock oolite that promises oil and gas there.

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