By Joseph Allchin
Bangladeshi officials have said they expect a result in the arbitration over maritime boundaries in the Bay of Bengal by April, as a leaked US cable reveals that Dhaka was seeking US assistance after a Burmese military build-up stemming from the dispute.
“The arguments [over boundaries] will be held in two phases ending on 24 Sept and the ruling is expected in April,” Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Mijarul Quayes told Reuters on Sunday.
The initial complaint was submitted to the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in 2009, but the hearings did not commence till 5 September this year.
The dispute concerns a semi-submersible drilling platform owned by Swiss-US oil firm Transocean Inc, but was leased to South Korea’s Daewoo. Daewoo, along with their partner, Kogas, were given permission to explore for oil and gas in the disputed AD-7 offshore block by the Burmese authorities in 2008. The rig was escorted into the contested waters by the Burmese navy.
At the time news surfaced of a military build up on the shared land border but a recent cable released by Wikileaks indicates that the Bangladeshi government asked the US for help.
“Army Chief General Moeen Uddin Ahmed asked the Ambassador [US] for assistance to assess the buildup, specifically requesting satellite imagery to assist the Bangladesh Army see the scope of the Burmese military presence and track further developments,” the cable, dated 18 December 2008, notes.
As a result of pressure at the time, the Daewoo rig, which was believed to have cost some $US400,000 per day, was moved out of the contested area. According to the cable’s source, “[Foreign Affairs advisor] Chowdhury claimed Daewoo had removed its rig in November solely because of pressure from the Korean Government.”
The cable further notes that the military build up was because “the Burmese Government was seeking revenge against Bangladesh for the offshore rig incident.”
The Bangladesh Army chief noted that the Burmese forces, who were believed to be 30 kilometres away from the border, “lived off the land”, and “reports from arriving refugees had underscored the increasing desperation of the under-funded Burmese soldiers”. It continued that the refugees’ “tales of treatment at the hands of Burmese soldiers reflected an increasingly frustrated Military.”
Bangladesh is desperate to secure energy supplies, and the nation’s state-owned oil company, Petrobangla, has signed deals with US oil company Conocco Philips to explore in its waters.