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Dhaka restarts India-Burma pipeline talks

Nov 13, 2009 (DVB), The Bangladesh government has restarted tri-nation talks over a proposed 950-kilometer gas pipeline to run from western Burma to eastern India, through Bangladesh.

"We have received a green signal from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and forwarded the proposal to the foreign ministry to resume negotiations with New Delhi and Yangon [Rangoon] in this regard," Mohammad Mohsin, secretary for the energy and mineral resources division, told Reuters.

If it goes ahead, the $US1 billion pipeline will connect Arakan state in western Burma to India's Western Bengal, which borders Bangladesh. Burma holds vast offshore natural gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal.

Initial talks were held between the three governments in 2005 but differences between Dhaka and Delhi scuppered the plan.

In return for pipeline access through Bangladesh, Dhaka had sought access to hydroelectric power in Bhutan and Nepal via a 'corridor' through India.

This plan was however rejected by Delhi, much to the ire of the Bangladesh government which since has hindered Indian attempts to connect its troubled North East region with the rest of the country.

As a result of the fall out with Dhaka, India and Burma then considered routing the pipeline around Bangladesh.

However the proposal to reignite discussions comes only days after the Thailand-based Arakan Rivers Network campaign group published a report on an Indian plan to connect these North Eastern states with the sea via a controversial dredging project on the Kaladan River.

Observers have said that this could be indicative of the brinkmanship between the two countries, with Bangladesh holding India hostage over its strategic position, but not wanting to lose out on regional trade.

If the talks are successful Bangladesh could make over $100 million a year as a fee, and more in one-off charges. It could also receive much-needed natural gas from the pipeline.

More significantly, however, it could signal a further sign of India's stomach for a fight with China over a stake in Burma's wealthy fossil fuels and strategic regional position.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin


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