India talks trade with Myanmar, seeks early political reforms

April 3rd, 2008 - 12:26 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil

New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) India and Myanmar Wednesday discussed ways to increase connectivity and opening more border points between them, even as New Delhi urged the junta to expedite political reforms and make these more broad-based to include imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Maung Aye, the second-highest ranking general in Myanmar’s ruling military junta, began his five-day India visit Wednesday with a series of meetings with the Indian leadership.

Maung held talks with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the afternoon, followed by a call on President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Later in the evening, he held extensive discussions with his counterpart, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, at Hyderabad House, followed by a ceremony to sign agreements.

The current situation in Myanmar came up for discussion in all meetings with Indian leaders, with the Myanmerese general briefing his hosts on recent initiatives of the military regime, including its decision to hold a referendum on the new draft constitution in May and general elections in 2010.

According to a statement of the external affairs ministry, the prime minister did note the “positive steps” of the Myanmar government, but also “underlined the need for Myanmar to expedite the process and make it broad-based to include all sections of society, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the various ethnic groups in Myanmar”.

Ansari reiterated India’s stance that sanctions could be “counterproductive” and expressed his support for the efforts of the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

Hosting a banquet in the visiting general’s honour, Ansari termed Myanmar as a natural bridge between the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc).

Besides political issues, trade was also on their mind, with the two sides agreeing to open border points in India’s northeast to increase bilateral trade. They talked about intensifying cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector, and India committed to support Myanmar’s IT and telecommunication sectors.

Both sides also discussed cooperation in security matters on the India-Myanmar border, with India requiring Myanmarese cooperation in controlling insurgency groups in north-east, which often slip across the border to set up camps when pursued by Indian police.

Despite western rights groups’ criticism of Myanmar’s handling of pro-democracy demonstrations six months back, India has maintained contacts with the ruling military junta. India’s intensification of ties with Myanmar has been partly a result of the military junta cosying up to China, which had rung alarm bells in New Delhi.

An agreement and two protocols on the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport project, which will allow sea access to the northeastern states, bypassing Bangladesh, were signed.

The Kaladan project includes upgrading the Sittwe port and Kaladan waterway and construction of a road from Setpyitpyin (Kaletwa) to the India-Myanmar border at a cost of Rs.5.3 billion.

Meanwhile, exiled pro-democracy Myanmarese activists here have been on a sit-in since March 31 to protest the policies of the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

“We have been protesting against the SPDC, its new constitution and the upcoming referendum,” said L.R. Sanga, president of the Chin Students Association. He added that 27 pro-democracy associations in India have organised the protests under the banner of Burma Campaign India.

“We have not yet made plans for protests in other parts of the country, but we may do them at the last minute,” he said.

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