YANGON (Reuters) - Security concerns will likely delay the first shipments of gas and oil from the Myanmar coast to China through a new pipeline running across territory controlled by ethnic militia groups, a Myanmar energy official said on Saturday.
Construction of the 793-km pipeline will be completed by the end of May, according to Li Zilin, vice chairman of South East Asia Gas Pipeline Company, a conglomerate of Chinese and Myanmar companies.
"Technically the gas pipeline is ready, but I'm not just sure when the situation along its route will allow it to operate," said a senior Energy Ministry official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The official said operations were likely to be delayed due to recent clashes between government forces and ethnic militia fighters in Shan state, as well as "fierce fighting" with the Kachin Independence Army in Kachin, a northern state that borders China.
The pipeline will be a conduit for gas from the Shwe fields off the coast of Rakhine, a western state bordering Bangladesh, to China's Yunnan province.
It will also transport oil from the Middle East and Africa overland across Myanmar, allowing China to avoid using the Straits of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
The project has also sparked protests in Manday Island where the pipeline begins and residents say land has been confiscated to make way for a deep sea port.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government to drop charges against 10 protesters accused of illegally organizing a demonstration and are scheduled to appear in court May 13. It said the detainees sought permits to protest twice but were denied after being told Manday Island was under a state of emergency.
"We are waiting to have transparent talks about our grievances with the authority and the Chinese companies," Tun Kyi, chairman of Maday Island Development Association, told Reuters.
About 400 villages on Manday Island staged a protest last week. Demands included adequate compensation for land seizures, improved roads and creation of jobs.
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun. Additional reporting by Jared Ferrie; Editing by Nick Macfie)