India, Myanmar look to consolidate ties
New Delhi, April 4
General Maung Aye met the top political and army leadership of India immediately after he arrived here on Wednesday for a five-day official visit. General Aye, who is the vice chairman of the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar, met President Pratibha Patil, vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee and Army chief Deepak Kapoor soon after his arrival here. He met Leader of the Opposition L K Advani the very next day.
Singh was frank and did not hesitate to raise the issue of the main Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi - something that is red rag to the Myanmarese military junta. Manmohan Singh noted the positive steps being taken by the Myanmar government towards national reconciliation and political reforms, including the announcement of elections in 2010.
The Prime Minister underlined the need for Myanmar to expedite the process and make it broad-based to include all sections of the society. Singh made it clear that “all sections of society” including Suu Kyi and the various ethnic groups in Myanmar should be involved in the process. The Prime Minister expressed support for the UN secretary general's good offices and his satisfaction at the facilitation of the visit of UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari by the government of Myanmar.
General Aye is leading a high-level delegation, including members of the business community. Apart from Delhi, he will also visit places of economic, scientific, historical and religious interest. An important highlight of General Aye’s talks with the Indian leadership was the highly strategic Kaladan project - a multi-model transport project - that India and Myanmar have signed and is bound to change the face of India’s north east.
President Pratibha Patil expressed happiness at the conclusion of the Kaladan project, while noting with satisfaction on the multi-faceted India-Myanmar relationship, which encompasses a wide range of areas including cross-border developmental projects, trade, IT, Telecommunication and Hydrocarbons.
The Kaladan project will usher in connectivity between Myanmar and India, in particular with India’s Northeastern states. Myanmar and India share a border of more than 1,600 kms. Myanmar also serves as a gateway for India to Southeast Asia and ASEAN.
The project includes the up gradation of the seaport in Sittwe, widening and deepening of the Kaladan River and development of a road to connect Aizwal. The Kaladan project will include shipping, riverine and road transport. New Delhi wants to connect the Northeast with the commercial sea routes. Moreover, with the development of Sittwe port and the Kaladan River as navigation efficient, the region is expected to have another viable access to the Southeast Asian countries.
India has decided to spend nearly $100 million for the project. The junta, though assuring free land for the project, had shown reluctance in investing money in the project, which finally compelled New Delhi to extend a soft loan of $10 million to the SPDC leaders. The Kaladan project is anticipated to be completed within four years and the project will be executed by the public sector, Rail India Technical Economic Services Organisation.
But the signing of the deal would not be without repercussions, as the international community has been raising its voice against the military junta for its continued repressive policies on the pro-democracy activists including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the poor human rights record of Myanmar.
Public memory is still fresh on Myanmar, where thousands of agitating monks were subjected to torture during September 2007 in the streets of Yangon. More than a hundred people were feared killed as the junta controlled the sporadic protests with an iron hand.
Even domestically, former defence minister George Fernandes is said to be planning a protest against the growing India-Myanmar relations. Fernandes, who has maintained close links with Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, is miffed at India’s approach to give further legitimacy to the military junta in Yangoon.