Friday, 24 February 2012

China calls on Burma to ensure border security

The Chinese government, in a rare if subtle criticism of a regional ally, has called on the Burmese government to tighten controls at their joint border after a rise in the number of refugees fleeing into China.

A senior Foreign Ministry official, Jia Qinglin, told the visiting Speaker of Myanmar's lower house that Beijing “sincerely hopes Myanmar will find a peaceful way to appropriately resolve problems with ethnic reconciliation and will protect the long-term peace and stability of the China-Myanmar border region”.

The coded put-down is rare for China, which regularly insists on its policy of non-interference into the affairs of other states. It follows attacks on Chinese shipping along the upper Mekong near the Burmese border last December, as well as a sharp increase in the number of ethnic Kachin refugees fleeing Burma amid fighting between ethnic rebels and the army.

Up to 10,000 refugees, mostly Kachin, have flooded across the porous border in recent months, according to local aid groups. They are now encamped in makeshift tent cities on the Chinese side of the border. Beijing denies the existence of the refugees, who are seen as an embarrassing testimony to the inability of China's ally to pacify its border regions.

Fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and the Burmese military flared up last June after a 17-year ceasefire broke down. The poorly policed border regions are easy territory for the rebels, who are fighting for greater autonomy from the Burmese government.

China's criticism may herald greater collaboration between the two countries on border security, especially if Beijing continues to feel that Burma is unable to handle the situation itself.

Sources: Reuters, AFP

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

CGX resumes operations at disputed Guyana well

Toronto-based explorer CGX has restarted drilling at the Eagle 1 well off Guyana, after a seven-year delay caused by border disputes between Guyana and Suriname. The resumption comes as part of increased interest in the oil and gas prospects off the northern coast of South America.

CGX, which has a 100% stake in the Corentyne licence where the Eagle well is located, restarted operations on 9 February. CEO Steve Hermeston said in a statement that the resumption “marks a significant milestone in the history of CGX”.

Drilling was suspended in June 2000, when Surinamese naval forces ordered a CGX rig to leave the area, accusing it of drilling in Surinam's waters. The area in dispute, the Guyana-Suriname basin, is believed to hold major gas and oil deposits.

The two sides contest the exact territorial line through the basin and the Corentyne river which empties into I – both parties aimed to get the largest possible share of the basin. In 2004, smarting from the suspension of the CGX contract, took the case to a tribunal operating under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The five-member tribunal issued a ruling in September 2007 which allowed both sides to have access to the basin and the river, but gave Guyana a larger share of the basin itself: 12,800m2 compared to Suriname's 6,900m2. Despite the disparity, both sides have welcomed the result, with Suriname's president saying he was “delighted” at the ruling.

The resumption of operations by CGX is a clear vote of confidence in the new situation and a sign that exploitation of the region's resources can proceed.

Sources: Upstream, BBC

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Disputed waterway between Iran and Iraq reopens

Commercial traffic has resumed on the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran for the first time in 30 years, reflecting decreased tensions over the disputed marine boundary between the countries.

The reopening of the waterway, which runs for 120 miles down from the Gulf, follows the opening of a new jetty by Shell designed to support operations at the Majnoon oilfield on the border with Iran. The new facility is situated about 50 miles up the Shatt al-Arab: ships travelling there must first pay customs duties at the port of Umm Qasr on the edge of the Gulf.

Although there are other small harbour facilities down the course of the Shatt al-Arab, the Shell facility is the first major facility to be established there since the Iran-Iraq war interrupted southern Iraq’s oil operations in 1980. The war began in part due to a dispute over the border line through the Shatt-al Arab, which provides vital access to the Gulf.

The opening of the port suggests that the boundary dispute over the waterway, although not settled, is not proving an impediment to commercial activity there. Most of the remaining sections of the border have been agreed, and in late 2010 the Iraqi government said that the demarcation of the Shatt al-Arab line would begin under the auspices of the UN.

It seems that the process of demarcation is still underway. Nonetheless it seems that Iran is willing to accept – at least for now – some common usage of the waterway. This illustrates the warming political ties between Baghdad and Tehran and their willingness to move onwards from the disputes of the past.

Sources: AFP, France 24