UPDATE 2-Myanmar stops disputed gas exploration -Bangladesh

Thu Nov 6, 2008 6:13pm IST

(Updates with Myanmar reaction)

DHAKA Nov 6 (Reuters) - Myanmar stopped oil and gas exploration in deep-sea blocks in disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal on Thursday, a day after Bangladesh asked China for help over the row, officials said.

"They have stopped exploration, but are yet to remove vessels and equipment from our (sea) territory," a Bangladesh navy official told Reuters.

In Yangon, a Foreign Ministry official said Myanmar had only "paused" its exploration activities in the disputed waters.

"We don't have any reason to change our stance on this matter because it is located in our exclusive economic zone," said the Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be identified.

"We will continue it soon and move somewhere else within our zone when it's finished," he said of the exploration work.

Bangladesh sent a naval patrol to the area on Sunday after Myanmar began exploration in the blocks, raising tensions in the area thought to be rich in gas reserves.

Yangon summoned the Bangladesh ambassador on Sunday to protest against the actions by Dhaka, which later sent a diplomatic team to the former Burma this week.

The two impoverished countries have been holding talks for years to demarcate their border in the Bay of Bengal. This week Bangladesh said it wanted a diplomatic solution to the dispute to avoid any confrontation.

Both sides have appealed to regional powerhouse China to help resolve the dispute. China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday urged both countries to take measures to resolve the dispute amicably.

"As a friend and neighbour of both countries, China hopes to play a role through appropriate means," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regular briefing.

Technical delegations from both sides were scheduled to meet in Dhaka on Nov. 16 and 17 to discuss maritime boundary demarcation, officials said.

Bangladesh said last year some offshore blocks Myanmar had been trying to explore in cooperation with India were in Bangladesh's waters.

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in YANGON) (Reporting by Nizam Ahmed; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Paul Tait)

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