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Bangladesh to abstain from Gas Pipeline talks in Delhi

Dhaka: Bangladesh has expressed its reluctance to attend the India-Burma talks on the proposed tri-nation gas pipeline project, scheduled to be held in New Delhi on Wednesday. Dhaka claims it received a delayed invitation.

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Veena Sikri met the Advisor to the Energy Ministry of Bangladesh Mahmudur Rahman on Tuesday and inquired about Bangladesh's participation. "The time is too short for attending tomorrow's meeting in New Delhi," Rahman was stated to have told Sikri.

"If they can do without Bangladesh, let them go ahead, and good luck to them," Mr. Rahman told reporters in Dhaka on Tuesday.

Mr. Rahman said if India and Burma could find a better route for the gas pipeline, they will obviously go for it, but "If they feel that the route through Bangladesh will be a better option, they will have to come to us. We're waiting for the outcome of the bilateral negotiations between the two countries."

However, Burmese Energy Minister Lun Thi has gone to New Delhi to explore an alternative route in case Bangladesh does not join the $ 1-billion project.

"We have informed Bangladesh about the proposed talks between India and Burma on Wednesday, and through the Bangladesh High Commissioner forwarded an invitation to send an envoy to the talks," Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar told reporters at a teleconference from Romania on Monday.

In case the Bangladesh envoy arrives, "We will convert the schedule to trilateral talks or we will continue to have bilateral talks with Burma," Aiyar added.

Dhaka wants India to first address issues like reduction of trade imbalance, providing a corridor for Nepalese goods to Bangladeshi ports and access to hydroelectric power in Bhutan.The Burmese Energy Minister's visit to New Delhi comes in the wake of a lack of movement of the proposal to construct an India-Burma gas pipeline passing through Bangladesh.
According to the original proposal, discussed and agreed upon in January 2005, the pipeline was to be routed through Arakan (Rakhine) state in Burma and the Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura before crossing into Bangladesh to reach Kolkata.

The new plan, which will work out to be more expensive and difficult to execute, may see the pipeline entering India through the northeast part of the country.

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