Chittagong, Bangladesh: A two-day (from January 8 to 9) expert-level bilateral maritime boundary meeting between Burma and Bangladesh ended without any fruitful result. But, Bangladesh and Burma on January 9, agreed in principle to resolve their arguments on maritime boundary through bilateral negotiations, maintaining a balance between the principles of equity and equidistance, according to an official source.

At the meeting, Additional Foreign Secretary M Khurshid Alam led a 13-member Bangladesh delegation while Burma’s deputy foreign minister U Maung Myint led a 12-member delegation. However, Alam did not want to disclose the details of the discussions held at Hotel Agrabad in Chittagong.
At the meeting, Bangladesh was pressing for equity principle for the sake of justice and sovereign equality of nations, which would be a win-win situation for both the countries in demarcating sea borders, while Burma asked for an equidistance method that would lock Bangladesh’s sea zone in the Bay of Bengal.

“We have in principle agreed to settle the disputes on maritime boundary keeping in consideration both the principles of equity and equidistance subject to approval of respective higher authorities,” M K Alam said after the end of two-day talks with Burma on Saturday afternoon.

“We could not take any final decision. We were trying to find out the options so that the higher authorities of the respective governments can take a final decision,” Alam, a retired rear admiral of the Bangladesh Navy, said.

The two sides have also agreed to hold further discussions. The next round of talks will be held in April in Burma. Asked whether M K Alam was satisfied with the progress made at the meeting, he replied, “So far so good”.

Burma’s ambassador to Bangladesh U Phae Than Oo also termed the discussion ‘fruitful’ and said it would continue, according to agency reports.

Bangladesh has problems with India and Burma on the issue of “starting point” on how to mark the boundary of the exclusive economic zones that apparently overlapped claims of the three neighbouring countries because of the funnel-like shape of the Bay of Bengal, the ambassador added.

When contacted AFK Jilani, the NLD organizing secretary of Arakan State, said, “It is not easy to get an immediate solution between the two countries because there is a saying that “If two men have same idea, they will become enemies of each other”. In a similar way, Bangladesh or Burma does not want to miss the opportunity because it is millions of dollars of business.”

Salim Ullah the spokesperson of ARNO (Arakan Rohingya National Organization) said, “I believe that there will be no solution between the two countries regarding the maritime boundary because the delegation of Burma is not the real representative of the Burmese people, but it will be solved by the UN Convention on the Laws of the Seas with the participants of real Burmese representatives.” 

One of the experts of the Bangladesh team said the question of starting point of the sea-border was important. “Because from the starting point onward, seaward line will be drawn,” the expert said.

Out of Bangladesh’s total of 27 blocks, Burma and India have made overlapping claims over at least 18 offshore blocks in the complicated maritime geography.

Bangladesh and Burma resumed talks on maritime boundary demarcation in 2008 after a pause of 22 years. The two countries had at least three rounds of talks on the issue since then and the talks yielded no tangible result.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on October 8 said Bangladesh approached the UN tribunal to end the disputes as soon as possible. She said the disputes would be resolved at the tribunal over a maximum of four years if Bangladesh could not bury the disputes through bilateral talks.

Most of the Bangladesh people want to end the disputes through bilateral talks, said a leader in a seminar held in Dhaka recently.

Dhaka has registered its objection with the United Nations to the claims of India and Burma over certain areas in the Bay. Bangladesh has, however, continued holding bilateral talks with the two neighbours for an amicable settlement of the disputes as it, according to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas, must demarcate its maritime boundary by July 27, 2011.