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Deal signed for Myanmar oil exploration

YANGON, Myanmar --Two little-known foreign companies have signed a deal for offshore oil and gas exploration with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, state-run media reported Sunday.

A report in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper identified the companies as "Rimbunan Petrogas Ltd established in British Virgins Island and UNOG Pte Ltd formed in Singapore," and said they signed production-sharing contracts Saturday for exploration, drilling and production of oil and gas in Block M-1 in the Mottama offshore area of southern Myanmar.

The contract was signed at the new capital of Naypyidaw, 250 miles north of the commercial city of Yangon, on Saturday in the presence of Energy Minister Brig. Gen. Lun Thi and Malaysian Ambassador Dato Shaharuddin Bin Mohd Som.

Financial details of the contract were not made public.

Rimbunan Petrogas is usually referred to in oil industry media as Rimbunan Retrogas. It is registered in the British Virgin Islands but part of Malaysia's Rimbunan Hijau group, a major logging conglomerate.

Rimbunan Retrogas and Rimbunan Hijau share the same top executive, Malaysian businessman Tiong Hiew King. Forbes magazine lists him in its latest issue as one of "The World's Billionaires," with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion, ranking him at joint 840th among the richest persons worldwide.

UNOG does not appear to be a prominent company, but the New Light of Myanmar identified its managing director as Win Kyaing, who is also managing director of IGE Pte Ltd. IGE describes itself in several online industrial directories as a "trading company newly registered in Singapore, since 2001, and having main office in Myanmar."

In February, the New Light of Myanmar reported that "Rimbunan Petrogas" and "IGE Pte Ltd" signed production-sharing contracts for exploration of oil and natural gas in Block-A off Myanmar's Rakhine Coast.

Since Myanmar liberalized its investment code in late 1988, it has attracted its largest foreign investments in the energy sector. It has signed oil and gas exploration contracts with France's Total SA, Unocal Corp. of the United States, Malaysia's Petronas, Thailand's PTT Exploration & Production PCL and Daewoo of South Korea.

It also has deals with companies from India, Australia, Canada and Indonesia.

New contracts continue to be signed despite condemnation of the ruling military regime by Western nations for its poor record on human rights and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government. The United States and the European Union have imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar in recent years as a result.

Myanmar's current junta took power in 1988 after crushing the pro-democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In 1990, it refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi's party won a landslide election victory.