Friday, November 7, 2008

Myanmar rejects Bangladesh call for oil probe halt

YANGON, Myanmar -

Myanmar's government on Thursday rejected a demand by neighboring Bangladesh to immediately halt oil and gas exploration off Myanmar's western Rakhine coast.

A government statement on state radio and television evening news called Dhaka's demand "unlawful and wrongful," and stated that the operations will continue.

The statement was the first official response to tension over disputed waters that flared earlier this week.

Bangladesh had accused Myanmar of sending several ships, apparently for prospecting, into a deep sea area it also claims and that is believed to contain hydrocarbon reserves.

Myanmar in 2005 awarded exploration rights in the area to the South Korean company Daewoo International Corp., with initial feasibility studies conducted in 2007.

Bangladesh's protest came after Daewoo began formal exploration in the area in September. Dhaka sent naval vessels to the area on Sunday, but has vowed to use diplomatic methods to solve the dispute.

"The government of Myanmar will protect its territorial boundary in accordance with international laws," Thursday's statement said.

The two sides have been engaged in long-standing talks to delineate their maritime border, with the next discussions slated to take place later this month.

China, which is Myanmar's closest ally, urged the two nations to settle their differences peacefully, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported

It quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang saying Thursday that Beijing hopes the two countries will settle the dispute "through equal and friendly negotiations and maintain a stable bilateral relationship.

"As their friend, China will contribute in an appropriate manner," he was quoted saying.

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