November 9, 2008 / 9:49 AM / 11 years ago

Bangladesh says Myanmar vacating disputed sea patch

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh said on Sunday that Myanmar had started withdrawing oil and gas exploration equipment from disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal.

“By this time they (Myanmar) are leaving our territory, and (we) hope they won’t resume exploration unless both sides finalise the demarcation (of boundary claims) in the Bay of Bengal,” Foreign Adviser (minister) Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury told reporters.

However, official media in Myanmar presented this as a technical move and said the South Korean company undertaking the exploration work had simply moved to another block after a successful seismic survey.

A Bangladeshi diplomatic team returned from Yangon late on Saturday after inconclusive talks with Myanmar on the issue.

“They have started withdrawing ships and other exploration equipment from our waters. We hope the withdrawal will be completed soon,” a Bangladeshi navy official told Reuters.

But Myanmar’s official media said Myanmar had rejected “the mistakenly made demand of Bangladesh”.

The New Light of Myanmar paper reported on Sunday exploration work had moved from Block AD-7 in the Bay of Bengal to another offshore block, A-3.

New Light said South Korea’s Daewoo International Corp had drilled an exploration well down to the targeted depth in Block AD-between Oct. 17 and Nov. 5 and the necessary survey was completed.

“Further tasks would be carried out according to the work programme,” it said.

MILITARY BUILD-UP

Bangladesh and Myanmar have reinforced troops along their common border and put them on high alert since early Saturday.

The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), a border force, also advised people living close to the border to leave their homes when the situation might warrant.

The border remained tense but there had been no untoward incident, security officials said on Sunday.

“We are on high alert to face any circumstances,” BDR Major Sajjadul Kabir told Reuters in the Cox’s Bazar frontier district.

Bangladesh and Myanmar share a 320 km (200 mile) border, partly demarcated by the Naf river.

The dispute surfaced after Myanmar started oil and gas exploration early this month in a stretch of the sea both countries claim.

Bangladesh raised the issued with China, a friend of both nations, and also urged Seoul to ask the South Korean-based company hired by Myanmar to stop activities in the disputed waters.

Bangladesh deployed naval ships to the area, and sent the diplomatic team to Yangon seeking to solve the issue through negotiations.

Bangladesh and Myanmar have been holding talks for years to settle their Bay of Bengal claims.

Iftekhar said Bangladesh still hoped for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. Technical delegations from both sides were scheduled to meet in Dhaka on Nov. 16 and 17 to discuss maritime boundary demarcation, officials said.

Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon and Ploy Chitsomboon in Bangkok

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