NEW DELHI (AFP) — India has pledged to invest 150 million dollars for gas exploration in Myanmar, a statement here said Monday, as pro-democracy protests in its junta-ruled neighbour swelled to 100,000 people.
Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora witnessed the signing of three accords between state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) and its counterpart the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise on Sunday at Nay Pyi Taw, the administrative capital of Myanmar, the ONGC statement said.
The accords come amid some of the strongest dissent against the ruling generals in nearly two decades in Myanmar.
New Delhi has not yet commented on the protests that on Monday attracted more than 100,000 people in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.
Deora's visit also comes a fortnight after the United States and Indonesia called on China and India to use their clout to press Myanmar's military junta to improve its human rights record.
Myanmar, which borders China and India, possesses significant untapped natural gas reserves off its coast.
Energy-hungry India and China, besides other Asian countries, have been jockeying for a share of Myanmar's vast energy resources -- weakening US and European economic sanctions.
The agreements signed by India allow ONGC's overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh Ltd, to explore for gas in three deep-water exploration blocks, the AD-2, AD-3 and AD-9, off the Rakhine Coast, the statement said.
"The investment of ONGC Videsh on account of minimum work commitment in the blocks ... is slated to be about 150 million dollars," the statement said.
"The blocks have been awarded to OVL on the basis of mutual understanding and cooperation between India and Myanmar in the hydrocarbon sector. All the three blocks have good hydrocarbon potential," it said.
"Upon discovery of oil and gas, development and production operations shall spread over a period of 20 years," it said.
India, which is battling a myriad of insurgencies in its northeastern region bordering Myanmar, has cited security concerns for engaging the military regime.
"India's policy has been to engage and not to endorse Myanmar's policies due to complex security reasons," said C.U. Bhaskar, the former head of think tank the Defence Studies and Analyses.
He agreed that Deora's visit had come at a "challenging moment" coinciding with the pro-democracy protests in Myanmar.
"But the signing of these accords would have been planned for a long time. So we are talking about two different timelines here," Bhaskar noted.
An Indian oil ministry statement said Deora's counterpart, Brigadier General Lun Thi, officially conveyed his government's gratitude to New Delhi for a 20 million dollar credit line for the revamp of a refinery and requested another for the refurbishment of a second.
Deora offered to train Myanmarese oil and gas personnel in India, it added.
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