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Dhaka defers support to Indo-Burma gas pipeline

Nava Thakuria
From Mizzima News, India
December 3, 2004
link to this article.

Bad news for the concerned sections regarding the energy security of India after Bangladesh government has decided to defer its support for the three-nation natural gas pipeline from Burma to India thorough Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has advocated for taking up the matter at the highest level. The committee was of the view that the decision regarding the gas pipeline should be dealt by the Prime Minister Khaleda Zias office, which also looks after energy issues of Bangladesh.

The gas pipeline project will be shared between India and Burma, where a Bangladeshi company, Mohona Holdings is also a recognized stack holder.

The US dollar one billion project is planned to export natural gas from Burma's Arakan State to India through a pipeline which passes through Bangladesh. Even the natural gas from Northeastern province of Tripura is also on the card to be fed into the pipeline.

The Indian government had tried their best to import gas from Bangladesh for long back, but due to the domestic opposition to the Indian proposal in Bangladesh, it had not been materialized.

The energy experts as well as civil society in Bangladesh are vehemently opposing the idea of gas export to India. The issue has got political complication too.

Now, the government of India has been pursuing for importing gas from Burma. New Delhi has argued that it will benefit both India and Burma. At the same time, the project will be beneficial for Bangladesh too in revenue generation. It is predicted that the Mohona Holdings Ltd. of Bangladesh can earn around $100 million per year through the project.

The Burmese pro-democracy and ethnic Arakan activists say that they strongly oppose the Burmese government selling the natural gas to India.

They argue that the money the junta gets from Arakan gas export will strengthen the rule of military government in Burma.

"The people in Arakan State will never be benefited from this gas sale. Instead, they will be subjected to severe human rights violations such as forced labor and forced relocation by the military authorities for building gas pipeline", said Kyaw Han, an Arakan ethnic leader who has been campaigning against the gas pipeline.

The previous Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government in Dhaka was almost ready to support the gas pipeline project. The proposal was first submitted in 1996 to Dhaka, but the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, known as pro-India prime minister, could not materialize the support from other political parties.

Later, Mohoma Holdings Ltd. submitted the proposal once again to Dhaka, after the government change in 2002 in Bangladesh. Though it showed interest in the beginning, the present Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government, later deferred the decision.

"This In fact the issue is expected to top the agenda at the tri-nation energy ministers conference to be held in January 2005 in Burma, informed MK Roy, a Dhaka based senior journalist, who deals with the economic issues of Bangladesh.

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