Dhaka-Yangon to discuss maritime boundary, gas search


Dhaka : Bangladesh and its eastern neighbour Myanmar will discuss the long-pending maritime boundary issue that has a direct bearing on gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal when a high-level delegation visits Yangon in the next few weeks.

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The delegation, headed by Additional Foreign Secretary M.A.K. Mahmood, will visit the Myanmar capital within a month, The Daily Star said Friday.

Both India and Myanmar have begun gas exploration on territory that Bangladesh claims as its own.

India, Myanmar and Bangladesh have not demarcated their territorial waters. India and Myanmar have agreed on an “equidistant” boundary allowing them to explore gas in the Bay of Bengal.

An unnamed foreign ministry official said Bangladesh’s delay in claiming its maritime territories had allowed both India and Myanmar to creep into Bangladeshi territory in the Bay of Bengal.

Mahmudur Rahman, energy adviser to the government of Khaleda Zia, had claimed in 2006 that Myanmar had encroached 18,000 sq km into Bangladeshi territory and floated gas exploration tenders.

India was alleged to have encroached upon 19,000 sq km.

“We have, during the past year, developed an excellent bilateral relationship with Myanmar. It is our view this would be further strengthened when we resolve the issue of maritime boundaries,” Foreign Advisor Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury told journalists here Thursday.

Yangon has warmed to Dhaka over the past year and the neighbours have made significant progress in a number of key areas such as road links, border management and energy cooperation.

Most of these issues were put on hold after Buddhist monks took to the streets in Myanmar last September, plunging the military-ruled state into a political crisis.

Foreign ministry sources told The Daily Star that Bangladesh has been preparing its case for gas exploration but has not been able to invite tenders for block bidding as the maritime boundaries had not been demarcated.

The sensitivity of the issue has kept the maritime boundary dispute off the bilateral agenda over the last few years, said one official, adding that warmer relationships had made it possible to start talks to resolve the matter.

Bangladesh’s current caretaker government reportedly has plans to explore deepwater fossil fuel in Bangladesh’s claimed 200 nautical miles of territorial water in the Bay of Bengal.

According to the Law of the Sea, Bangladesh claims 12 nautical miles of territorial sea, 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone and 350 nautical miles of the continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal.

The country has been allowed 10 years to justify its claim since it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea in 2001.