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Burmese warships ‘intimidating’ oil companies

Oct 14, 2009 (DVB), Burmese warships stationed in the Bay of Bengal are intimidating two oil companies exploring in waters claimed by Bangladesh, a lawyer representing Dhaka has said.

The confrontational behaviour of Burmese ships in the area has "prevented Bangladesh from exploiting potentially huge deposits of oil and natural gas located off its coast", said Paul Reichler, in a statement released by US-based law firm Foley Hoag.

Foley Hoag is representing Bangladesh in a United Nations arbitration over a maritime dispute between Burma and Bangladesh.

The Dhaka-based Daily Star reported on Monday that Burma had sent 12 warships and a frigate to the area, while Bangladesh was "preparing 30 warships in Chittagong and Khulna".

The two companies, US-based ConocoPhillips and UK-based Tullow Oil, hold exploration licenses from Bangladesh.

A staff member at Tullow Oil who spoke to DVB today refused to comment on the situation.

According to Foley Hoag, Bangladesh accuses Burma of granting concessions to oil companies that "have engaged in drilling and other exploratory activities in disputed areas without prior notice to or consent by Bangladesh".

Reichler said however that Burma's claims to maritime territory near to the lucrative oil and gas blocks were "exaggerated".

A Bangladeshi government official, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, was quoted in the statement as saying that the UN arbitration "will allow us to once and for all settle this dispute with our neighbours, to ensure that our sovereign rights to the natural resources in the sea are fully respected."

"It is in keeping with our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations to seek a solution to disputes by peaceful means," she added.

The maritime dispute has further strained relations between Naypyidaw and Dhaka following rising tension over the construction of Burma's controversial fence along its border with Bangladesh.

The border fence has reportedly aggrieved local residents who claim that the project has caused greater militarization of the region.

Bangladesh's foreign minister, Dipu Moni, on Monday played down reports that Burmese troops were amassing on the border, and said it was "routine practice, not a build up".

It followed comments from Colonel Azam from the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR), a border paramilitary force, that a "massive build-up" and "abnormal movement" of troops and armour was occurring on the Burmese side.

The BDR had last week sent three troop battalions to the border following the resumption in construction of Burma's controversial border fence.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin


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