Trouble ahead for Myanmar gas exports to India

Vol 7, PW 9 (16 Jul 03) People & Policy

REBEL GROUPS in Myanmar are threatening to blow up any gas pipeline through Bangladesh to India unless the country's military junta first meets their demands.

PETROWATCH learns of a joint strategy drawn up at a secret meeting of leaders of the three most important Myanmar opposition groups at the Falta riverside tourist resort south of Kolkata between 9th and 11th July. About a dozen leaders representing the Arakan Youth and Students Front, the outlawed National Unity Party of Arakans and the Arakan Rohingya Nationalist Organisation attended the meeting.

U Khin Maung, general secretary of NUPA, tells this report: "We will not allow our gas to be exported to India until it is first used to generate electricity for our people. We cannot allow the generals to make money from our gas so that they can buy more weapons to suppress us." The meeting decided to step up protests and attacks against the Myanmar junta's nascent plans to lay a 160-km long gas pipeline from the town of Kyaukpru in the north western part of gas-rich Arakan province to the Bangladesh border town of Teknaf.

Early May, Myanmar authorities commandeered several thousand villagers from the Arakan province to lay a new road from Kyaukpru to Teknaf as part of the pipeline project. Tentative plans are to complete the road and shoulder for the pipeline by the end of this year.

One rebel leader who attended the meeting issued a chilling warning to the Myanmar junta if it ignores protests and begins pipeline construction. "We will blow up the pipelines, we will demonstrate against it throughout the world, we will lobby against it to galvanise world opinion, we will do everything possible to stop it." Worryingly, Myanmar opposition groups issued a three-point strategy to combat construction of the pipeline.

It includes the kidnap of Myanmar or foreign oil company employees working in the country. Each opposition group was given a specific task.

The Arakan Youth and Students Front would coordinate political opposition through protests and marches in India, Thailand, United States and Britain, where many Arakanese live in exile. The National Unity Party of Arakans and the Arakan Rohingya Nationalist Organisation would carry out sabotage and attacks on the pipeline construction sites.

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