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Dhaka seeks UN resolution of dispute over maritime boundary.

Bangladesh will go to the United Nations arbitration for a resolution of its long-standing dispute with India and Myanmar over maritime boundary.

Announcing the decision at a press briefing yesterday, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said the government has decided to take the matter up with the UN, as talks over the last 35 years could not settle it.

“We are submitting the issue to compulsory arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to ensure our sovereign rights to the natural resources in the Bay,” Moni noted.

She, however, said bilateral discussions will go on.

Earlier in the day, her ministry called in the Indian high commissioner and Myanmarese ambassador in Dhaka and gave them notification of arbitration and statement of claim.

The statement on the invitation for arbitration reads, “The claims of our neighbours have unfairly cut off a significant portion of our maritime area in the Bay of Bengal and prevented us from exploring and exploiting oil and natural gas resources.

“The time has come to settle the disputed boundary so that both Bangladesh and its neighbours can finally resolve this obstacle that stands in the way of exploitation of our natural resources.

Bangladesh's decision comes in the wake of its neighbours' laying claim to the three blocks it wants to be explored for oil and gas.

Now that notification and statement of claim have been issued, a tribunal will be constituted in line with the UNCLOS principles and rules.

The country suffers from a scarcity of resources despite huge deposits of marine assets in the Bay. It needs urgent delimitation of maritime boundary to exploit the resources, observed the foreign minister.

She said things will get even worse if the matter takes more time to be settled.

Dipu Moni said she hopes the arbitration move will speed up the negotiations with India and Myanmar.

“There will be no need for arbitration if we can by that time settle the issue at the negotiating table,” she said, adding that Bangladesh has already appointed an international counsel to represent it in the UN arbitration.

The ministry statement says, “As all three countries are parties to this Convention, they are under an obligation to accept the Final Award of this Tribunal, which we anticipate will take approximately four to five years.”

Once the differences with the neighbours are resolved, it will establish Bangladesh's rights to the natural resources. It will help the country move forward to an era of prosperity, it further adds.

Recently, the government has endorsed leasing out blocks 5, 10 and 11 to ConocoPhilips and Tullow Oil plc for offshore oil and gas exploration.

ConocoPhillips, the third largest US energy company, will get deep-sea blocks 10 and 11. Irish company Tullow, which has already been working on Bhangura gas field here, will get Shallow-sea block 5.

With around 15 trillion cubic feet (425 billion cubic metres) of proven and recoverable gas reserves, the country currently faces a shortage of around 100 million cubic feet gas a day.

Dipu Moni said the arbitration bid will mean no harm to the friendly relations with the two neighbours.

Asked if it will create problem for the oil and gas exploration companies, she said their operations will be confined to the undisputed waters.