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Myanmar-India gas pipeline likely to bypass Bangladesh
From The Khaleej Times, UAE
June 30, 2005link
to this article.
The much-hyped overland gas pipeline from Myanmar to India might bypass Bangladesh to safeguard what is being described by senior government officials as "India's strategic interests".
A Gas Authority of India (Gail) official disclosed yesterday that federal authorities are seriously considering a proposal to redesign the gas pipeline so that it runs entirely through Indian territory skipping Bangladesh altogether.
According to the new scheme, the pipeline will enter India through the northeast. In January, it was announced that the pipeline would run through Arakan (Rakhine) state in Myanmar and the Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura before crossing Bangladesh to reach the West Bengal capital, Kolkata.
Apparently, New Delhi is wary of the pipeline running through a third country - Bangladesh. It is also being argued that the realigned pipeline would boost India's domestic gas exploration projects in the neglected northeast. But the real reason for the proposed realignment is Bangladesh's insistence on a free trade corridor to Nepal as the price for allowing the pipeline to run through its territory.
Dhaka is also demanding removal of existing trade barriers between India and Bangladesh. Moreover, Dhaka is also bargaining hard for India's permission to buy cheap hydropower from Bhutan and Nepal so that its own gas reserves of Bangladesh are preserved. India clearly feels that Dhaka should be happy with $125 million annually as transit fees but Bangladesh does not see it as a fair deal.
If the pipeline is laid through Bangladesh to West Bengal - as it was originally planned - it will be 900km long and cost around Rs450 million. If it is laid through the northeast bypassing Bangladesh, the pipeline will be 500 km longer. And the additional cost will be to the tune of Rs250 million. But the additional cost will be offset by the transit fee that Bangladesh will charge for allowing the pipeline to pass through its territory.
If the pipeline enters India directly from Myanmar through the northeastern states, it would come as a boon as the gas produced in these states cannot be piped to the more lucrative markets elsewhere in India at present. The region as well as oil exploration companies would gain from higher prices, if the northeastern gas can be shipped. "A pipeline is like a road, it benefits the entire territory that it passes through", a senior Gail official said. Since the gas from Myanmar is expected to flow over a period of 15 to 20 years or even more, the expenses of laying the pipeline entirely through the Indian territory could well be worth the additional cost. "While petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar had made good headway with the proposed Myanmar-India-Bangladesh pipeline, Dhaka has queered the pitch by bringing in bilateral issues into trilateral talks", a senior official pointed out.
India is predicted to require 400 million standard cubic meters of gas per day by 2025, up from today's 90 million standard cubic metres. The pipeline was one of several options India has been considering to bring gas reserves from the Shwe Field's Block A-1 site. India's state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation has a 20 per cent stake in Myanmar's A-1 and A-3 Blocks, while GAIL has a 10 per cent stake in the two sites.
This year, India also struck a 25-year deal to import 7.5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas a year from Iran from 2009. Energy-hungry India is increasingly looking for more fuel as demand soars with rapid economic growth.
Bangladesh springs conditionsfor India-Myanmar gas pipeline
From The Financial Express, India
June 24, 2005link
to this article.
Bangladesh on Thursday expressed its Opposition to India's ambitious project to interlink rivers and put conditions for allowing a gas pipeline between India and Myanmar through its territory.
Dhaka also sought expediting of work on settlement of the boundary dispute for which the two sides agreed to revive the joint working group (JWG) and decided to hold meetings to sort out differences over fencing being carried out by India.
"There is a lot of concern in Bangladesh about the inter-linking of rivers project of India," Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohd Hemayetuddin said a day after conclusion of his two-day talks with his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran in the Capital.
Noting that it was not some "anti-India sentiment", he said the project would "affect the interests" of his country. "It is a matter of our survival," he said, adding Bangladesh shared 54 rivers with India and the inter-linking project could divert water at the cost of his country.
Pointing out that the matter was raised with the Indian side at the talks, Mr Hemayetuddin said New Delhi had given an assurance that it will take no step that is detrimental to the interests of Bangladesh.
The Indian side, he said, has assured to hold consultations with Bangladesh on the matter if required.
Mr Hemayetuddin also favoured water-sharing agreements on six major rivers, including Teesta. The two countries already have such an agreement on river Ganga.
He said water resources ministers of the two countries will meet soon in Dhaka which could be followed by a meeting of the joint rivers Commission.
On the proposal to construct an India-Myanmar gas pipeline passing through Bangladesh, the foreign secretary said his country was not averse to it but wanted India to "sort out certain things".
He identified three major issues which it wanted New Delhi to address - reduction of trade imbalance, providing corridor for Nepalese goods to Bangladeshi ports and access to hydro-electric potential in Bhutan.
India has a large advantage in balance of trade vis-a-vis Bangladesh, he said and added that New Delhi had expressed its sincerity to address the issue of imbalance.
Bangladesh, he said, favours reduction of tariff barriers as one of the steps to address the issue trade imbalance.
On his meeting with commerce minister Kamal Nath, Mr Hemayetuddin said "a basket of items" have been identified for consideration for preferential treatment to the Bangladesh.
He also virtually ruled out Bangladesh giving gas to India saying Dhaka would first have to assess how much reserves it has for several decades and how it can take care of its own needs.
Myanmar opened to sanctions
From Inter Press Service/Asia Times Online
June 21, 2005link
to this article.
Thanks to the stubbornness of Myanmar's military rulers, the Southeast Asian nation is about to enter a league of its own as the first country in the world to face sanctions for failing to end forced labor.
The conditions for such action were paved last week when the governing body of the International Labor Organization (ILO) declared that its patience had run out on a four-year wait-and-see attitude toward labor reform in Myanmar. That means the 178 members of the ILO, which includes governments, employers and worker organizations, have the license to impose punitive measures that had first been called for in
2001, but put on hold.
Criticism of the military junta has been on the rise recently as opponents of the regime prepared to mark the 60th birthday of detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. On Sunday, supporters launched protests around Asia to draw attention to the plight of the jailed opposition leader.
"The feeling was that things were not getting better, but worse," ILO executive director Kari Tapiola told Inter Press Service by phone from the organization's office in Geneva. "Members have been asked to take the necessary action or measures, since we do not use the word sanctions."
The move pushes ILO members into new territory, said Tapiola. "We have never pursued such action before in the history of the ILO. This is the first time that the ILO's Article 33 is being enforced." Under that article, a country will be subject to a range of harsh measures if it fails to comply with recommendations made by the ILO to reform abusive forms of labor.
This could affect current and future foreign investment flowing into Myanmar and lead to international trade unions boycotting the country's economy and even UN agencies and multilateral organizations reviewing their activities there.
"The repercussions could be wide-ranging in Myanmar's internal economy and externally, too," Aung Naing Oo, research associate at The Myanmar Fund, a Washington DC-based rights lobby, told IPS. "Because much of the economy is in the hands of military generals."
The regime's reluctance to end forced labor reflects how much military officers depend on it for their economic activity, he added. "It is a problem institutionalized in the army. Military officers are making big money as a result of it."
Currently, members of the junta have the right to control 12 major areas of Myanmar's economy, including the sale of teakwood from the forests, exploring and extracting petroleum and natural gas, and providing air transport and railway services.
According to the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, military leaders also enjoy the power of controlling the country's banking and insurance services as part of that economic arrangement made possible under the 1989 State-Owned Economic Enterprises Law.
The ILO's emerging sanctions on Myanmar would come on top of punitive economic measures imposed by the US government and some selective restrictions imposed by the European Union.
Myanmar watchers are hardly surprised by the labor group's move, given recent reports and statements by the ILO pointing to Yangon's failure to stop forced labor. The most revealing came in May, when Myanmar was singled out in an ILO global report for perpetuating this form of abuse.
These violations are often wide-spread in the provincial areas that are home to Myanmar's ethnic minorities. They include villagers forced to porter for the army, build roads and bridges, cultivate military-acquired land and construct buildings.
"If villagers refuse to comply with orders, they can be subject to threats, imprisonment and violence," the ILO noted in its May report.
The ILO's attempts to trigger change in Myanmar go back to 1998, when the UN labor agency urged Yangon to comply with an inquiry to end forced labor in the country. The junta's failure to reform resulted in the 2001 resolution by the ILO's governing body to impose harsh measures called for under Article 33. However, that move was put on hold - resulting in the four-year wait-and-see policy - following an appeal by Yangon that it would introduce changes.
To appear committed to that new spirit, the junta invited the ILO to open an office to monitor forced labor, permitted two high-level visits, held technical cooperation meetings and introduced a law to ban this abusive form of labor. Yet such change failed to impress the ILO committee investigating the forced labor conditions in Myanmar, given that violations also included threats against citizens who reported forced labor cases to the ILO.
"The wait-and-see attitude that prevailed among most members since 2001 had lost its raison d'etre and could not continue," the committee declared last week.
Governments, employers and workers groups should now "activate and intensify the review of their relations with Myanmar," the committee added. "[They should] take the appropriate actions, including as regards foreign direct investments in all its various forms [and] relations with state or military-owned enterprises in Myanmar."
BURMA: Victory for human rights
From Green Left Weekly, Australia
June 8, 2005link
to this article.
A group of Burmese villagers have finally gained justice for the suffering inflicted upon them by the Burmese military regime.
On March 21, oil giant Unocal announced that a settlement had been reached in an eight-year-long legal case in which the company was accused of complicity in egregious human rights abuses, including forced labour and relocations, rape and murder. The accusations were in relation to the company's involvement in the Yadana natural gas pipeline project in southern Burma.
The Burmese military was given responsibility for security of the project area, despite its well-documented history of repression and violence. The pipeline happens to pass through the remote Tenasserim region that is dominated by indigenous Mon and Karen peoples, who are at odds with the ruling military junta. The military then used the project as justification for rapid militarisation of the region and the subsequent human-rights abuses that led to the case against Unocal.
Although the amount of compensation remains confidential, the victory gives these villagers the chance to rebuild their shattered lives, as well as implement development projects in areas such as health care and education, targeting communities located in the affected region.
But perhaps more important than anything else, the landmark decision has given truth a voice. According to Earthrights International, an environmental and human-rights organisation that played a central role in the case against Unocal, one plaintiff said, "I donâ€™t care about the money. Most of all I wanted the world to know what Unocal did. Now you know."
On April 4, ChevronTexaco announced plans to acquire Unocal for approximately US$18 billion. According to the April 10 Business, the company has indicated it will hold onto the tainted Yadana investments. In what should be a chill warning for its executives, ChevronTexaco is facing similar court action to Unocal over alleged complicity in human-rights abuses in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the message that corporations cannot turn a blind eye to human-rights violations in the interest of greed and profit may be falling on deaf ears.
In January 2004, a deal was signed between an international consortium of Indian and South Korean corporations and the Burmese military regime to exploit the Shwe natural gas field, in the Gulf of Bengal off the western coast of Burma. A pipeline is to be built to export the gas through south-western Burma to India via Bangladesh.
Although in its infancy, the project is already bearing some disturbing similarities with the Yadana pipeline project.
Earthrights International stated in an August 2004 report: "If nothing is done, it appears likely that history will repeat itself. Forced labour and human rights abuses are still an ongoing problem throughout Burma, and it can be assumed that these violations will continue at any major development project site."
The new pipeline is to be built through the ethnic minority-dominated states of Arakan and Chin. Mirroring the Yadana project, the Burmese military have begun clearing a corridor for the pipeline without local consultation. The increased military presence, which is already pervasive in the region, will no doubt bring about a dramatic increase in forced labour and other human-rights violations.
Local inhabitants are justifiably concerned about the impact the Shwe pipeline project will have on their lives. Yet given the current political situation and lack of legal recourse in Burma, they are unable to participate in the decision-making process of a project that is likely to have dire consequences for countless communities in and around the pipeline corridor.
The dark irony of it all is that the gas will be pumped to India and the revenue (estimated at $800 million - $3 billion annually) will go into the military's already bloated coffers, while the local population, who enjoy at most two hours of electricity per day, are overlooked.
The victory for victims of the Yadana gas pipeline project serves as a warning to other multinationals considering entering investment partnerships with the Burmese military.
The Shwe gas pipeline project must be suspended until a democratically elected government holds power in Rangoon and the local population is able to participate in the decision-making process freely and without coercion. To allow the project to go ahead under the current political climate will further entrench the militaryâ€™s authoritarian rule and its oppression of the Burmese people.
For more information and to take action against the Shwe gas pipeline project, visit http://www.shwe.org and http://www.earthrights.org.
India tips 2010 start for Rakhine gas pipeline
The Myanmar Times
June 7, 2005http://www.myanmar.com/myanmartimes/MyanmarTimes14-268/n002.htm
to this article.
THE Indian government reaffirmed last week that a proposed pipeline to carry natural gas from a natural gas field off Rakhine State to India through Bangladesh could be operational by 2010.
"As matters stand, it will take one year for government clearances, another one year for the project's financial closure and a further three years for the construction of the pipeline," a senior official at India's Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Mr Sushil Tripathi, told reporters in New Delhi on May 23, Associated Press reported.
Mr Tripathi's comment came despite a delay in signing a memorandum of understanding pending the outcome of negotiations between Dhaka and New Delhi on conditions sought by Bangladesh to allow the pipeline to pass through its territory.
The MoU was drafted in February by a technical committee comprising officials from the three countries and was due to have been signed in late March.
The three countries agreed in principle to build the pipeline at a meeting in Yangon in January attended by Myanmar's Energy Minister, Brigadier-General Lun Thi, and his Indian and Bangladeshi counterparts, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar and Mr A.K.M. Mosharraf Hossain.
The three ministers also agreed then to establish a consortium to build the pipeline.
Meanwhile, Mohana Holdings, a Bangladesh construction company which is seeking to lead the consortium, said it was in negotiations with potential partners in the project.
The managing director of Mohana Holdings, Mr K.B. Ahmed, was quoted by India's Telegraph newspaper on May 24 as saying the consortium would build and operate the pipeline.
Mr Ahmed declined to name the companies involved in negotiations to form the consortium, the newspaper reported.
He said Mohana Holdings was also talking to investors and financial institutions about funding for the project.
The report quoted Mr Ahmed as saying the MoU, which he hoped would be signed soon, would provide for the establishment of the consortium.
India has proposed that the pipeline follows a route through Myanmar and the Indian states of Mizoram and Tripura and across Bangladesh to India's West Bengal state, where it would be linked to the national grid.
The pipeline, to come ashore near the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, will carry gas from a block known as A-1 which is being developed by a consortium headed by South Korea's Daewoo International, which has a 60 per cent share in the venture.
India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and the Gas Authority of India Limited have a 20 per cent and 10 per cent share respectively and the remaining 10 per cent is held by South Korea's state-owned KOGAS.