India, Myanmar to boost counter-terror cooperation, energy ties (Lead)

July 26th, 2010 - 9:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Bodh Gaya New Delhi, July 26 (IANS) Against the backdrop of China’s growing clout in Southeast Asia, India and Myanmar are expected to sign a clutch of pacts Tuesday to expand cooperation across a swathe of areas, including counter-terrorism, business, energy and infrastructure.

Myanmar’s military ruler, General Than Shwe, who is on a five-day visit to India, touched down in the Indian capital Monday after a day’s halt in Gaya in Bihar to offer prayers at Bodh Gaya’s Mahabodhi temple.

India has rolled out the red carpet to welcome Than Shwe and has designated his trip as a state visit with a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan and a gala state banquet thrown in for the visiting leader.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold wide-ranging talks with the 77-year-old Than Shwe, the head of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as Myanmar’s junta calls itself, on a wide range of bilateral issues.

Expanding counter-terror cooperation will top the agenda. Indian intelligence sources say that insurgents from India’s northeastern states continue to shelter along the India-Myanmar border even after a crackdown by the junta.

The two countries are set to ink a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters to combat transnational organised crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling of arms and explosives, sources said.

A slew of pacts on boosting Indian investment in the energy, transport and infrastructure sectors are expected to be signed after the delegation-level talks.

In view of China’s growing influence in Myanmar, India is likely to air its concerns over the Chinese traders’ growing presence in the trade hubs of Mandalay and Tamu, undercutting the presence of the Tamil diaspora in those parts of Myanmar.

India is likely to announce grants and lines of credit for developing power, road, railway and cross-border connectivity projects with Myanmar along the 1,645 km border between the two countries. A $60 million line of credit for developing the railway sector is on the way, said sources.

A $1 billion-plus Indian investment in Myanmar’s gas and energy sectors may also be unveiled.

India’s state-run oil firms ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of Oil and Natural Gas Corp, and and GAIL have a 30 percent stake in two gas-producing blocks in Myanmar as part of a consortium which is supplying the hydrocarbon gas that goes to China. Officials said the two companies — which will continue to pursue hydrocarbon interests in Myanmar — are also part of the pipeline project which will link the two blocks to China. The total investment by the state companies is around $1 billion.

The visit of Than Shwe to India takes place against a backdrop of mounting criticism of the junta’s dismal record in human rights and recent renewal of US sanctions barring trade with companies tied to the junta in energy-rich Myanmar.

On eve of the visit, the US has said it “expects to send a clear message to Burma that it needs to change its course.”

India, which supported the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 but turned realist in the mid-1990s after increasing Chinese forays into that country, will have to do a delicate balancing act in view of its energy and security interests.

–Indo-Asian News Agency

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