Myanmar leader’s India visit boosts trade, security ties

April 4th, 2008 - 5:48 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of ISRO
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, April 4 (IANS) A top leader in the Myanmar junta ended the official leg of a five-day visit to India Friday with a commitment to step up cooperation on many issues ranging from border trade to security matters. Vice Senior General Maung Aye, vice chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, left for Gujarat to see the Reliance petroleum refinery at Jamnagar and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) complex in Bangalore.

He will also visit the Buddhist pilgrimage sites at Bodh Gaya, Sanchi and Sarnath before flying home Sunday, ending his second trip in eight years to New Delhi.

There is great satisfaction here over the general’s interactions with Indian leaders, who have forged close ties with the military junta in recent years even as they reiterate the necessity for political reconciliation in Yangon.

One of the most important decisions taken during the talks was to open up the border trade, thus far restricted to just 22 commodities, to regular trade, which presently totals nearly $1 billion.

Both countries feel this will soar once the illegal trade gets crushed following the start of regular trade.

Although the two Asian countries share a 1,600-km winding and often porous frontier, there are only two recognised border points — in the northeast Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram.

An Indian delegation will soon visit Yangon to finalise banking facilities to conduct trade. The decision is expected to greatly benefit India’s northeastern states.

It was also decided to build a road-river link from Mizoram to the Myanmar port of Sitwe, which will be rebuilt by India. This will help the landlocked Indian northeast to get access to the sea and to Southeast Asia, bypassing Bangladesh. Sitwe is just about 170 km from Mizoram.

Myanmar has also applied for the status of observer in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India is supportive of the Myanmar request.

Gen Maung Aye, who was accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising key members of the junta, showed great appreciation of Indian security concerns. He promised that Indian insurgent groups would not get sanctuary in Myanmar.

The leading Indian militant groups that Indian security agencies say have bases in Myanmar include the two rival wings of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the United Liberation Front of Asom and the People’s Liberation Army.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also told the general that India would support Myanmar to develop its IT, telecommunications and hydrocarbon sectors. New Delhi would also continue to build roads in Myanmar.

At the same time, the general was told gently that India favoured faster movement on the political front in Myanmar, where opposition to the junta took a bitterly violent form last year causing global outrage.

Gen Maung Aye was told that Myanmar needed to make the process of political reforms and reconciliation broad-based to include jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and various ethnic groups.

In a sign that it is willing to listen, the military junta conceded an Indian request and received the UN secretary general’s special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, in March after initially refusing to receive him so early this year.

India also told the general that it was against Western ideas of imposing sanctions against Myanmar over its poor democratic credentials. New Delhi feels that any isolation of the junta will only push it closer to Beijing.

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