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India proposes to resume talks on tri-nation gas pipeline

From The Financial Express/Bangladesh-web
August 17, 2005
link to this article.

The prospect of the tri-nation gas pipeline appears bright following an official Indian proposal to Bangladesh for resuming talks on the billion-dollar project.

India, in a letter, asked Bangladesh to host a tour by former Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar on August 27-28, sources in the foreign ministry said.

The New Delhi letter that reached Dhaka in the last week expressed willingness to resume talks on the proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) in connection with the project.

The New Delhi letter was sent after the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh to Bangladesh during August 6-8. The issue of pipeline was highlighted at a meeting between Sing and Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman during the visit.

Dhaka is likely to take a decision on the tour and inform New Delhi on the date of tour by today (Wednesday), the sources added.

However, Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh U Thane Myint said the issue of the tri-nation gas pipeline is going "very slowly" despite its prospects for the three close-door neighbours.

"The ball is in the court of Bangladesh and India," said Myint, and added that these two countries would decide how they could work together.

"I understand the most economic way would be to build the pipeline through Bangladesh," said the Myanmar Ambassador who said a guideline could be developed when Aiyar comes to Bangladesh.

"Time is running...we have gone halfway through 2005," Myint said hinting things were progressing quite slowly.

He said the three conditions set by Bangladesh could go through some scrutiny to have a check and balance, which would bring a win-win situation for these three countries.

Myanmar is already exporting natural gas to Thailand from its Yetegun and Yedena reserves and that it has proven gas reserve in the Bay of Bengal, 100 nautical miles south of Saint Martin Island.

A total of four blocks, from A-1 through A-4 have been classified along the south strips of Rakhaine coast, bordering Bangladesh where more than 6 to 7 trillion cubic feet of gas might be recoverable.

The tri-nation pipeline project was initiated by the Mohona Holdings Limited way back in 1997. The governments of India and Myanmar have already approved Mohona's proposal for the cross-border pipeline.

Bangladesh has formed a committee to fix its position on the project. The committee is yet to give its opinion.

The prospect of the trans-nation gas line that also involved neigbouring Myanmer was shadowed due to plan by New Delhi to skip Bangladesh from the project to safeguard "India's strategic interests".

In early last month, an UAE based newspaper quoting Indian government officials reported that a proposal to skip Bangladesh to run the pipeline entirely through India was under serious consideration.

Though India did not inform Bangladesh about the proposed realignment of the tri-nation pipeline officially, experts attributed to such intention by the New Delhi to creating pressure on Dhaka.

Bangladesh that tagged a number of bilateral issues for allowing its land for the proposed pipeline has reiterated its demand for free trade corridor to Nepal, removal of existing trade barriers between two countries and permission to buy hydropower from Bhutan and Nepal.

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