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Dhaka, Yangon, Delhi to sign deal in March

From The Daily Star, Bangladesh
February 28, 2005
link to this article.

A tripartite accord between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar will be signed next month in Dhaka for the proposed trans-border natural gas pipeline.

Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar yesterday said representatives of the three countries agreed on the draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) at a technical meeting in Yangon last week.

The tripartite agreement will be signed in Dhaka by the end of March, he added.

The 290-km pipeline will run through Arakan province of Myanmar and Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura before passing through Bangladesh to Kolkata to transport gas from a Myanmarese offshore field.

Aiyar said a joint project team of officials from oil firms of the three countries will be formed to study the feasibility of the pipeline project in six months.

The team will also detail the financing and operational aspects and maintenance of the project.

It will decide the volumes, quantity and price of gas and size of the pipeline, he said, adding, "We hope the construction of the pipeline will begin next year."

Bangladesh, which will earn about $70-80 million annually as transit fee for the pipeline, wants it to run through Cox's Bazar.

Aiyar said he will visit Dhaka next month for the signing of the MoU with Myanmar Energy Minister Lun Thi and Bangladesh Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources AKH Mosharraf Hossain.


ILO team leaves Yangon after failing to meet top generals on forced labor

From Agence France Presse
February 23, 2005
link to this article.

A high-level team sent by the UN's International Labour Organisation on Wednesday cut short its mission to Myanmar, after failing to meet top generals to assess the junta's commitment to fighting forced labour.

"The mission decided that there would be no point at this stage to have more in-depth discussions at the technical level" on steps to fight forced labour, the team said in a statement before leaving two days early.

It said authorities cited the ongoing National Convention, convened to draft principles for a new constitution, as the reason why top leaders, including regime number one Senior General Than Shwe, could not meet the delegation as planned.

"The mandate which had been entrusted to the very high-level team ... was to evaluate the attitude of the Myanmar authorities at the highest level to the elimination of forced labour and assess their determination to continue their cooperation with the ILO in this regard," it said.

"The Myanmar authorities were fully aware of these terms of reference before the mission departed for Yangon," it added.

"However, the mission was informed on its arrival that for various reasons linked to the National Convention, the program did not include the meetings that would have enabled it to successfully complete its mandate as it understood it."

The delegation said it did meet Prime Minister Lieutenant General Soe Win and Labor Minister U Thaung on Tuesday, as well as Foreign Minister Major General Nyan Win on Wednesday.

The delegation was trying to assess whether the new government is determined to tackle the problem despite last October's sacking of prime minister Khin Nyunt.

The independent team, headed by former Australian governor-general Sir Ninian Stephen, will report to the next session of the ILO's governing body in March.

Myanmar is scheduled to come up for discussion on March 24, when the governing body could decide to renew its call for sanctions.

The visit was seen as a test of Yangon's willingness to cooperate in fighting forced labor.

One source close to the ILO described the team's early departure as "a failure for everyone" but said their trip "went badly from the start."

The source said that there is still one month until the ILO governing body meets. "The delegation said that the door is still open."

The delegation said it submitted a memo to Nyan Win outlining steps that would show Myanmar's determination to fight forced labor.

These included issuing new orders by the defense ministry against forced labor, reconfirming Myanmar's commitment to a plan previously agreed with the ILO, allowing the ILO officer in Yangon free movement, and raising public confidence in legal complaints against forced labor.

In 1998 a major ILO inquiry found that forced labour was pervasive and systematic throughout the country, particularly with the military.

In 2000 the ILO's governing body recommended trade and other sanctions against Myanmar because of its lack of cooperation in tackling the practice.

The ILO and the junta agreed on a plan of action in May 2003, but shelved it two days later when the junta detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Until recently courts either threw out forced labor complaints or workers withdrew the cases.

A Myanmar court made an unprecedented ruling late last month, convicting four officials of forcing villagers to work on a road project and jailing them for up to 16 months, according to the United Nations.


Myanmar's gas riches entice Asian investors

From Reuters
Thursday February 17, 12:29 PM to this article.

SINGAPORE, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Politically and economically isolated for more than a decade, Myanmar is being thrown a lifeline by its Asian neighbours, which are jostling to spend billions of dollars to tap the country's energy resources.

Slightly smaller then the U.S. oil state Texas and bordering the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, little explored Myanmar is estimated to hold 13-15 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas, 7 percent of total proven reserves in Southeast Asia.

Aggressive state companies from China, India, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, undaunted by U.S. and European sanctions, are looking to invest their big cash piles to develop Myanmar's gas fields and build pipelines and hydropower dams.

"Non-western majors are now able to take significant positions than they might have a decade or more ago as they become more professional and have more financial muscle," said Andrew Symmons, research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

The influx of Asian players picked up steam in 2004 and threatens to eclipse long-standing investments by a handful of Western companies, predominantly France's Total SA and U.S. independent Unocal Corp .

Few Western firms have the stomach to invest in the country formerly known as Burma, worried by government and shareholder pressure to steer clear of the military-ruled nation shunned for its human rights record and suppression of political opponents.

Asian firms have no such qualms.

"Myanmar is cocooned by the support of regional powers that actually protect it from the sanctions the U.S. wants to apply," Derek Tonkin, former British ambassador to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam told Reuters.

Oil and gas is a key source of revenue and one of the few growth areas for Myanmar's economy. Decades of poor policies and more recently Western sanctions have left the once wealthy former British colony far behind prospering neighbours such as Thailand.

Myanmar supplies a quarter of Thailand's gas consumption with exports worth roughly $1 billion, or about 12 percent of gross domestic product.

"Growth is likely to come from the oil and gas sector as the global demand for energy increases. Additional gas reserves were found early in the year (2004), raising prospects for exports and increased foreign direct investment," the Asian Development Bank said in its 2004 Asia Economic Monitor.


Official data from Yangon shows that Myanmar pumped 349.8 billion cubic feet of gas and 20,000 barrels per day of oil and condensate in the April 2003-March 2004 fiscal year.

Last year, Myanmar awarded six licenses to Chinese and Thai firms to explore for oil and gas, the highest number of awards since 1997. It also agreed with Bangkok to study a $15 billion hydropower project on the Salween River to supply Thailand.

"If the hydro project is feasible, funding is not a problem. We want to develop it as fast as we can," said Songpope Polachan, director of strategy and policy coordination at the Thai Energy Ministry.

China's No.2 state oil giant, Sinopec Group, and offshore specialist CNOOC Ltd. were awarded four exploration blocks in 2004, tracking the footsteps of China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), which entered Myanmar a decade ago to help improve recovery rates at ageing oilfields.

India's ONGC Videsh Ltd. has teamed up with South Korea's Daewoo International to jointly explore for hydrocarbons. Both countries are heavily reliant on imported oil and gas to feed their economies.

ONGC Videsh and Daewoo International are also partners with Indian gas transport company, GAIL Ltd. , and Korea Gas Corp. , in Block A-1, one of Myanmar's biggest gas finds holding up to 6 tcf.

"We find Myanmar very exciting. We will bid for more blocks if we find them attractive," said R.S. Butola, ONGC Videsh managing director.

Yangon is hoping to build a $3 billion LNG export terminal by 2007, and last month, oil ministers from New Delhi, Yangon and Dhaka agreed to build a $1 billion gas line running from Myanmar to India via Bangladesh.

If the project goes ahead, it would be the first international pipeline for India, which imports 70 percent of its crude oil needs and has started taking delivery of liquefied natural gas. (Additional reporting by Park Sung-woo in Seoul and Himangshu Watts in Dehli)


Dhaka, Yangon to finalise road link

Rafiq Hasan
FromThe Daily Star, Bangladesh
February 17, 2005 to this article.
Myanmar Foreign Minister (FM) Nyan Win will come to Dhaka on February 24 for giving final endorsement to the project of the proposed road link between Dhaka and Yangon.

Nyan Win will formally lay the foundation stone of a bridge at Taungbro on Bangladesh Myanmar border on February 25, sources said.

He will hold meetings with Bangladesh Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan and other high officials on various bilateral issues during his three-day visit.

The issue of gas export from Myanmar to India through pipeline over Bangladesh will also come up at the discussions.

The progress of the three-nation project (involving Bangladesh, Myanmar and India) for the pipeline slowed down following postponement of Saarc summit scheduled to be held in Dhaka this month.
Bangladesh government will construct the 100 feet long bridge as part of its assistance to the next door neighbour in building 20 kilometre highway, necessary for establishing direct road link between the capital cities of two countries.

Communications Minister Nazmul Huda and high officials of the ministry yesterday held a meeting on the subject and discussed necessary preparations for laying the foundation stone by the Myanmar FM at Taungbro.

The distance from Bangladesh border area to the existing union highway in Myanmar leading to Yangon is around 130 kilometres.

Bangladesh has taken up the initiative to construct 43 kilometre road in the first phase, out of which 23 kilometre is in Bangladesh side and 20 kilometre in Myanmar side. Myanmar government will construct the rest of the road.

The communications ministry has submitted the project concept paper (PCP) to the Planning Commission for approval. The PCP estimated Tk 96 crore as the cost for building 20 kilometre highway in Myanmar side.

The estimated total cost of the first phase of the project is Tk 186 crore.
The Roads and Highways Department is now processing the documents for pre-qualification of the contractors and survey and design of the roads, sources said.

This is for the first time that Bangladesh is going to construct roads in a foreign country with its own resources.

The proposed highway will start from Gundum in Bangladesh and end at Bawli Bazar in Myanmar. The prime minister of Myanmar during his visit to Bangladesh last year laid the foundation stone of the road at Gundum.
The direct road link between Dhaka and Yangon is also necessary for establishing road communication with Thailand and China. The road link is also expected to strengthen the government's present 'look east' foreign policy.!!!


Magurchhara Blowout- Dhaka to go to int'l court for compensation

From The Daily Star, Bangladesh
February 16, 2005
link to this article.

Bangladesh will go to the international court seeking compensation for the damage caused by fire in the Magurchhara gas field.
The 1997 fire damaged gas worth Tk 3,900 crore, State Minister for Energy AKM Mosharraf Hossain said in parliament yesterday, replying to a question by a Jamaat lawmaker.

Unocal had given Tk 38 crore only as compensation to the government in 1997, the minister informed the House. Under a deal signed with the government in 1998, Unocal is supposed to give the government five percent additional quantum of gas the company would extract, he said, adding that the company was, however, claiming that it had already compensated the loss as per the 1998 deal with the government.

"Under this situation, the government has initiated necessary process to go to the international court for realising the compensation," the minister said. Responding to another question from Jatiya Party lawmaker GM Qader, the minister admitted the shortage of gas supply, saying that setting up of new industries and increased use of gas as well as wastage are responsible for it.

He said a well in Sangu gas field was closed and as a result, the government is receiving 112 mmcf of gas instead of 200 mmcf. Besides, a well in Moulvibazar gas field, which was supposed to supply gas to the national grid, failed to do so because of last year's floods that damaged 78-km of gas pipeline.

The minister, however, said the shortage would not continue for long. With the availability of gas from Moulvibazar field from March and another gas field in Feni, there will not be any shortage from April 2005 to 2010, he said, adding that rather, there would be surplus of gas during the period.


Tri -Nation Pipeline Meeting Now on Feb 27-28

From BD News / The New AgeFebruary 15 2005 to this article.

BDNEWS, Dhaka :The first meeting of techno-commercial working committee on a tri-nation pipeline to take gas from Myanmar to India over Bangladesh will be held in Yangoon on February 27-28.

In a fax message the energy ministry of Myanmar Monday proposed Bangladesh to hold the meeting on February 24-25 but, in an instant reply, Bangladesh proposed to hold the meeting on February 27 and 28.

The meeting was originally scheduled to start in Yangoon on Monday. An energy minister level meeting of the three countries in Yangoon from January 12 to 13 formed the techno-commercial working committee.

The committee will finalise a draft of a memorandum of understanding, to be signed among India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the sources at energy ministry and Petrobangla said.

The MOU is likely to be signed in April after the respective cabinets of the three countries give approval to the draft.

However, the state minister for energy and mineral resources, AKM Mosharraf Hossain Monday told the news agency that the committee would not prepare the MOU draft. ‘It will work only for pipeline route and commercial sides.’

The chairman of Petrobangla, SR Osmani, will lead Bangladesh in the meeting. Another member of the committee is the managing director of the Gas Transmission Company Ltd, Manjur Morshed Talukdar.

India has announced names of a four-member delegation for the meeting.

As per the agenda, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India will place their positions in the meeting.

At the same time, agreement of the trilateral meeting, the proposed structure of the MOU and its draft will also be placed.

The committee will approve the draft MOU.

The MOU was scheduled to be signed in the ministerial meeting on January 12 and 13. India and Myanmar were willing to sign it but Bangladesh denied.


Construction work on a road in Myanmar begins next month

Shakhawat Hossain
From The Financial Express, Bangladesh
February 9, 2005
link to this article.

Construction work on a vital road in Myanmar will begin next month to connect Bangladesh with the East-Asian Highway, sources said.
"A final decision on the route was taken at the meeting of technical committees between Bangladesh and Myanmar in Yangon recently," said Communication Minister Nazmul Huda.

Roads and Highway Department (RHD) additional chief engineer Idris Miah led the four-member Bangladesh side while Public Works, Ministry of Construction managing director U Han Zaw led the six-member Myanmar team.

A member of Bangladesh side on condition of anonymity told the FE that the Myanmar would identify a preliminary route to connect the first 20-km road from Taungbro to Balibazar.

Bangladesh will have to build this part of the road inside Myanmar at its own cost to stay linked with other countries. Otherwise, the Asian Highway would directly link Myanmar with India bypassing Bangladesh.

The committee has agreed to build 130-km of roads to connect Ramu, Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh and Kyauktaw in Myanmar

The estimated cost of road has been fixed at Tk 9.30 billion. The Bangladesh part of the road will stretch from Ramu to Gundhum while it will start at Taungbro in Myanmar, Nazmul Huda added.

The construction of the 20-km road is necessary because the existing track between Taungbro and Maungdaw is not suitable for further development, said the member quoting the Myanmar technical committee.

According to the decisions of the meetings of the technical committees, the Public Works, Ministry of Construction, Myanmar would complete survey of the alternative track within next two months.

The work on the portion of the route, which will involve building of a bridge at Taungbro, is expected to start by March 2005.

The Myanmar expressed its willingness to carry out the construction work under the joint supervision and monitoring by both the countries. It, however, kept the option open for Bangladesh to execute the construction work by hiring Myanmar contractors, sources said.

According to the communication ministry officials, the financial package of and others matters will be finalised soon.

As part of the government's "Look East Policy", the proposal for the road that will connect Bangladesh with Myanmar Thailand, China and other Asian countries was made during Prime Minister's visit to Myanmar in 2003.

The prospect of the road became brighter when the head of the Myanmar government visited Bangladesh last year and also laid the foundation of the road at Teknaf.


Dhaka to Make Fresh Review of Gas Pipeline Project

Imran Rahman
From Arab News, Bangladesh
February 5, 2005
link to this article.

The future of the tri-nation gas pipeline project is set to come under fresh scrutiny by the government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia following the sudden postponement of the 13th SAARC summit after India expressed her inability to attend the meet scheduled to be held in Dhaka on Feb. 6-7.

"The government is observing the ongoing situation", a senior official said in Dhaka yesterday.

It was learnt that according to the directives of the high-ups in the administration, Bangladesh is unlikely to take part in the tripartite gas supply project study on the proposed route of the pipeline, along with charges and management involving India and Myanmar, which was due to be held on Feb. 14, 2005.

However, a six-member tripartite working committee was to start a study on the 14th of the current month on the proposed gas pipeline from Myanmar to India through Bangladesh to pave the way for signing a trilateral agreement in April.

According to the previous plan, the first meeting will begin in Myanmar, which has already selected its two officials, Energy Planning Department Director General, U. Soe Myint, and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise Managing Director, U. San Luin, for the committee and sent Dhaka their names.

Bangladesh's Energy Ministry has selected Petrobangla Planning Director Muktadir Ali, and the Gas Transmission Company Limited Managing Director Manzur Morshed Talukder, for the committee.

Earlier, the energy ministry sent the names of the two officials to the Prime Minister's office last week for the PM's approval for their representation in the committee. New Delhi is yet to send Dhaka the names of its two representatives, sources said. Once the Prime Minister approves the two names from Bangladesh and Delhi sends its two names, the committee was to start its work, they said.

Following the much-talked-about two-day tripartite energy ministers meeting between India, Myanmar and Bangladesh which was held in Yangon on Jan. 12-13, Dhaka set preconditions that included allowing Dhaka to bring hydroelectricity from Nepal and Bhutan, providing the two Himalayan countries with trade transit facilities across India, and reducing trade gap between Bangladesh and India.



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