FM’s stance likely to hamper Bangladesh interests

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Updated at 06:45pm on August 24, 2019


AK Abdul Momen

Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen’s position for withdrawing objections lodged with the United Nations on the disputes with India and Myanmar involving Bangladesh’s claim in deep sea is likely to compromise the country’s interests, according to diplomats in New York.

After his meeting with Indian external affairs minister S Jaishankar on August 20, Momen told journalists at his office that they had discussed how to resolve disputes related to the claims on the continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal and both the countries would ‘mutually withdraw their objections lodged with the United Nations.’

A diplomat at the Bangladesh Permanent Mission in New York said that they were surprised when they came to know about the statement made by foreign minister Momen involving the disputes with India [and Myanmar].

‘It would be a disastrous decision if Bangladesh withdraws the objections without specific solutions to the claims we as a country have made on the deep sea,’ a senior diplomat in New York said.

‘Bangladesh may put its claims on about 10,000 square kilometres of areas in deep sea at risk and another dispute over a coordinate set by India along the Bangladesh border may remain unresolved.’

The disputes popped up as India, in 2009, submitted its claim on the continental shelf of the Bay of the Bengal cutting off Bangladesh’s access to the deep sea and creating a dispute over 9,000 square kilometres of areas claimed by Bangladesh.

India, in 2009, created another dispute by setting a coordinate 2.3 miles inside the Bangladesh territory on the official maps.

Bangladesh immediately lodged separate objections with the UN on the matters as the maritime boundary delimitation between the two countries was unresolved back in 2009.

Bangladesh submitted, on 25 February 2011, to the Commission on the Limits on the Continental Shelf information on the limits of the continental shelf within 200 nautical miles from the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

India put an objection on record against Bangladesh’s claims, according to documents available at the UN website.

An arbitration proceeding with India came to an end in 2014 with a verdict fixing Bangladesh’s maritime border with the country.

Bangladesh, in accordance with the verdict, published a gazette in 2015 declaring its baseline, territorial sea and exclusive economic zone.

It said that the limits of the territorial sea of Bangladesh would be 12 nautical miles measured seaward from the baselines.

The outer limit of the exclusive economic zone of Bangladesh is traced in such a manner that every point of the outer limit mentioned is at a distance of two hundred nautical miles from the nearest baseline point.

Bangladesh, on 30 March 2016, submitted a list of geographical coordinates  of points concerning the straight baseline for measuring the breadth of the territorial sea. 

The coordinates of points are Land Boundary Terminus (with India), Putney Island, Dakhin Bhasan Char, Cox’s Bazar and Southern end of St. Martin’s Island.

After two years of publishing the Bangladesh government document, India in 2017 raised its objections to the UN claiming that the base points used by Bangladesh for drawing the straight baselines ‘are at variance’ with the base points used in the award dated 7 July 2014 by the arbitral tribunal in the matter of Bay of Bengal maritime boundary arbitration between Bangladesh and India.

India also claimed that the exclusive economic zone of Bangladesh measured from the baselines using base points Putney Island Southern end of St. Martin’s Island ‘results in seaward shift of Bangladesh’s exclusive economic zone and consequently encroaches into the Indian exclusive economic zone in the grey area recognised by the tribunal’.

Myanmar also lodged a submission to the UN, in December 2008, to establish its claim in deep sea from the west coast abutting the Bay of Bengal, including around the Preparis and Co Co Islands, which Bangladesh disputes.

Bangladesh objected to the Myanmar submission claiming that the areas Myanmar was seeking in the outer continental shelf form part of the natural prolongation of Bangladesh.

The cases on objections recorded by Bangladesh, India and Myanmar are still pending with the UN.