India inks anti-terror pact with Myanmar, loosens purse strings (Night Lead)

July 27th, 2010 - 10:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) With an eye on China’s growing influence, India Tuesday signed a key pact to boost counter-terror cooperation with Myanmar and offered soft loans worth millions of dollars for a string of development and transport projects in the energy-rich southeast Asian country.
Tactfully balancing Western condemnation of the Myanmar junta over its human rights record and its security and energy interests, India gently nudged the junta in the direction of democratic reforms.

India emphasized the importance of comprehensively broad-basing the national reconciliation process and democratic changes being introduced in Myanmar, said a joint statement at the end of wide-ranging talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Myanmar’s military ruler General Than Shwe. There was, however, no mention in the joint statement of the iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under custody, and has boycotted the elections likely later this year.

Security and counter-terrorism topped the agenda. Among the five pacts signed is a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters that will be crucial in enabling India get access to insurgents from India’s northeast states who continue to shelter along the sprawling 1,650-kilometer India-Myanmar border.

The treaty aims at deepening bilateral cooperation in combating transnational organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling of arms and explosives.

Both leaders reiterated that their territory would not be allowed for terror or insurgent activities against each other. “They agreed that security cooperation should be given immediate attention since terrorists, insurgents and criminals respect no boundaries and undermine the social and political fabric of a nation,” said the joint statement.

The two sides also signed pacts in the areas of small development projects, science and technology and information cooperation. A memorandum of understanding on Indian assistance in restoring the Ananda temple in Bagan, a renowned Buddhist shrine and a major tourist site in central Myanmar, was also inked.

Increased collaboration for developing connectivity to link India’s northeast states, IT and infrastructure development formed key highlights of the talks, with India offering lines of credits worth millions of dollars to Myanmar.

Against the backdrop of China’s growing clout in Myanmar, India rolled out $60 million line of credit for development of railways, another $60 million for revamping of the Rhi-Tiddim road to enhance connectivity to northeastern states, $10 million for procurement of agricultural machinery and $6 million to upgrade the microwave link between Moreh and Mandalay in Myanmar.

The two sides also decided to ramp up their energy ties and bilateral trade, which currently stands at $1 billion. The Myanmar side welcomed the substantial additional investment by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) for the development in the upstream and downstream projects of Myanmar offshore blocks A-1 and A-3, including the natural gas pipeline under construction at Ramree in Myanmar.

India rolled out the red carpet to welcome Than Shwe, who began his five-day visit to the country Sunday by offering prayers at the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Than Shwe, who heads State Peace and Development Council, as the junta calls itself, was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Tuesday morning.

Thousands of Myanmarese refugees staying in India for years aired their outrage at Than Shwe’s visit and have urged the Indian government not to endorse the upcoming elections in that country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has officially said about 3,500 Myanmarese refugees are in India, with another 4,500 asylum seekers. Unofficial figures put the number at about 100,000, mostly in the northeastern states.

India supported the pro-democracy uprising in 1988, but started engaging the junta in the mid-1990s in view of Beijing’s surging trade, energy and defence deals with Myanmar.

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