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Thailand eyes Myanmar's natural gas reserves

Neighbouring countries have been jostling to take advantage of Myanmar's resources, despite condemnation of junta's rights record.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2006 10:52 IST

Thailand's largest energy firm PTT Plc on Monday said it has joined the race against China and India in a bid for exclusive rights to military-run Myanmar's northwestern natural gas reserves.

"We have expressed interest to buy gas from Myanmar's A-1 block," Chitrapongse Kwangsukstith, PTT senior executive vice president for exploration and production, said.

Neighbouring countries have been jostling to take advantage of Myanmar's abundant natural resources, despite international condemnation of the junta's human rights record and calls for the release of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar, which borders both China and India, possesses significant untapped natural gas reserves off its western Arakan coast, and the two Asian giants have been pushing to formalize a deal to build pipelines from the A-1 block in the northwest.

The semi-official Myanmar Times newspaper on Monday quoted an unnamed energy ministry official, who said that the rights to the gas would probably go to the highest bidder.

"At present we haven't decided which country to sell A-1 gas to," the senior official said, adding that they were considering three options; selling the gas via pipeline, building a LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) plant and construction of gas-based industries in the country.

China signed a deal with Myanmar in November 2005 to study building a pipeline from the Arakan Coast to its Yunnan province.

India has been trying to negotiate a three-billion-dollar deal to run a pipeline from Myanmar across Bangladesh to the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, but has failed to make headway.

In March this year, Indian President Abdul Kalam visited Yangon and left with an agreement for studies into a much longer pipeline through northeast India, or converting the gas to LNG for shipping.

Thailand already pipes about one billion cubic feet of gas per day from Myanmar's offshore reserves in the southeast in the Andaman Sea.

PTT's Chitrapongse said Thailand's negotiations for the A-1 block would depend on the results of the firm's exploration in the Martaban Gulf, where they were granted a 100-percent concession from the Myanmar government.