Myanmar, India, Bangladesh sign gas line agreement

Jan. 18, 2005
India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh have agreed in principle to lay an onshore pipeline to carry gas to India from large discoveries off Myanmar.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 18 -- India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh have agreed in principle to lay an onshore pipeline to carry gas to India from large discoveries off Myanmar.

The agreement triggered protests from groups complaining that the project would lead to human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. It came a month after Unocal Corp. settled a lawsuit with activists in Myanmar over alleged human rights violations in connection with its pipeline from offshore Yadana gas field to Thailand.

The proposed pipeline would begin in the Arakan province of western Myanmar. A consortium led by Daewoo International Corp. is appraising the Shwe natural gas discovery in the Bay of Bengal off that region (see maps, OGJ, Mar. 8, 2004, p. 39). Other consortium members are Korea Gas Corp., Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC), Videsh Ltd., and Gas Authority of India Ltd.

Meeting in Rangoon on Jan. 12-13, energy ministers from Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh reached agreement in principle for the pipeline from western Myanmar and for exploration for natural gas.

"The government of Myanmar agrees to export natural gas to India by pipeline through the territory of Bangladesh," the energy ministers said in a joint statement.

The statement was issued after meetings between India's Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, Bangladesh's State Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources AKM Mosharraf Hossain, and Myanmar Energy Minister Brig. Gen. Lun Thi.

The officials signed the pipeline agreement after the Shwe Gas Campaign Committee (India), an exiled Burmese campaign group, urged India to postpone production of Shwe natural gas until Myanmar has a democratically elected government.

A spokesman for the group predicted that the military regime in Myanmar would conduct the project with forced labor, forced relocation, and large military deployments.

"We want India to see the suffering that the project will cause to the people of Burma [as Myanmar was known before the military government took power]," the Shwe spokesman said. "It's not that we do not want India to have a relationship with Burma, but we are simply asking India to wait until Burma gains democracy."

Unocal settlement
Last month, Unocal announced "settlement in principle" of several lawsuits related to its investment in the Yadana project.

Without specifying terms, Unocal said the settlement would "compensate plaintiffs and provide funds enabling plaintiffs and their representatives to develop programs to improve living conditions, health care and education, and protect the rights of people from the pipeline region."

The lawsuit had been brought against Unocal by 14 refugees who alleged that the company was responsible for human-rights abuses by Myanmar soldiers working on the Yadana gas pipeline, in which Unocal, the Myanmar government, and Total SA have interests.

Employing the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act, the suit argued that by virtue of its partnership with the junta, Unocal "aided and abetted" the Myanmar army, which it said violated the rights of the local population during pipeline construction.