Burma’s military government has said that a revised sea boundary with Bangladesh could end a fiery bilateral dispute over the ownership of offshore gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal.
The proposal was offered during talks in the Burmese capital Naypyidaw last week between Bangladesh’s additional foreign secretary M Khurshid Alam and senior Burmese officials.
The new line would be close to the existing ‘friendship line’, which runs from the current border out to sea to St Martin’s Island in the northeast of the Bay of Bengal. No further details on the exact demarcation of the new line have been released.
The New Age newspaper in Dhaka quoted a Bangladeshi government official as saying that “Bangladesh will now weigh the new proposal of Myanmar [Burma]”.
The dispute between the two countries erupted in November 2008 when the Burmese government effectively sold ‘blocks’ of sea, claimed by Bangladesh, for gas exploration to a South Korean company.
Relations then furthered soured after Bangladesh warned the Burmese junta to immediately suspend all activities within its declared maritime zones, and said that it would do whatever it could to “protect the nation’s assets”.
Then in May last year the Bangladeshi government reported the Burmese to the UN and asked for arbitration in the dispute, but the tension continued to rise and peaked in October as Bangladesh accused Burmese warships stationed in the Bay of Bengal of intimidating oil companies.
Now however both countries appear to be seeking a diplomatic resolution, with the latest meeting following technical talks in January. The Bangladeshi oil and gas authority, PetroBangla, has also forbidden exploration in blocks adjacent to Burmese or Indian waters until the dispute is resolved.
Last week’s meeting also coincided with a visit to China by Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Dhaka is thought to have in the past appealed to Beijing on the maritime dispute.