BANGLADESH and Burma are not renowned for gunboat diplomacy but a bizarre naval stand-off over a potentially rich oil and gas deposit in the Bay of Bengal has soured relations between the impoverished Asian neighbours.
The confrontation, which took place last week, has sparked a flurry of diplomatic exchanges to prevent the dispute escalating.
The foreign affairs ministers of Bangladesh and Burma held urgent talks on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Indian capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday to help calm tensions. The discussion was described as "cordial' but talks have so far been inconclusive.
Meanwhile, there are reports that troops on both sides of the 320-kilometre Bangladesh-Burma border have been put on high alert.
The trouble started when Rangoon dispatched two naval ships to escort oil exploration vessels owned by the South Korean company Daewoo to an area about 50 kilometres south of Bangladesh's Saint Martin Island. Both countries claim the waters as their own.
When the Bangladesh Navy detected the Burmese ships it sent a patrol into the area. No shots were fired but the vessels from the two countries' navies watched one another warily.
Rangoon initially summoned the Bangladesh ambassador to protest and refused to withdraw the exploration equipment. Dhaka then turned to China, which has close links to the military junta in Burma, to help resolve the row. Both countries eventually withdrew their military vessels when Rangoon said it would "pause" exploration in the area. Bangladesh then sent its top foreign affairs official to Burma to discuss the problem.
Several international maritime boundaries in the Bay of Bengal are contested because of its curved shape. Bangladesh and Burma both insist on different methods to draw their sea boundary and a formal demarcation has never been settled.
The scramble for energy resources has highlighted this problem. Experts think the Bay of Bengal is rich in oil and gas so Bangladesh and Burma - two of Asia's poorest countries - are desperate to gain as much of this potential resource as they can.
Burma exported nearly $US3 billion ($4.6 billion) worth of gas last year, much of it to China, and this revenue has helped insulate the junta from the effects of international sanctions.
The dispute has also focused attention on competition between India and China for influence in the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh's decision to seek Chinese help to resolve the dispute emphasised Beijing's clout with the Burmese Government as well as its growing presence in the region. China is also Bangladesh's biggest trading partner.
Jabin Jacob, a research fellow at Delhi's Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies said India's "sphere of influence" in the Bay of Bengal region is being challenged by China. However, the dispute might also highlight Chinese limitations, he said.
"This might end up playing into India's hands because it will be very difficult for the Chinese to find a solution. There's not that much China can do about it."
Dr Jacob said the preference of both China and India to maintain stability in the region meant the conflict was likely to be contained.