Sunday, October 24, 2004

India: Sending wrong signals to "democracy" in Myanmar


"The visit sends the wrong signal to the Burmese (Myanmarese) people who are struggling for restoration of democracy," said Soe Myint, editor-in-chief of the New Delhi-based Mizzima News group which focuses on Myanmar-related issues. The visit on Sunday comes days after a major political shake-up in the former Burma which saw the removal of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, a reformist military intelligence chief who supported talks with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Than Shwe's visit has assumed special significance for New Delhi after insurgent groups in India's northeast -- many of them hiding in jungles across the border in Myanmar and Bangladesh -- stepped up violence with a wave of bombings and shooting, killing 63 people earlier this month.


2 POST

Myanmar strongman begins historic India visit
By Y.P. Rajesh

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Myanmar's military ruler, Senior General Than Shwe, arrives in India today on a landmark visit to strengthen economic and political ties with one of the few friends his junta has in the world.

The visit on Sunday comes days after a major political shake-up in the former Burma which saw the removal of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, a reformist military intelligence chief who supported talks with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The six-day trip would be the first time in 24 years a Myanmarese head of state visited New Delhi.

New Delhi, one of the few countries to have close ties with Yangon's military regime, considers the visit as a culmination of more than a decade of wooing its eastern neighbour.

"This is an important step forward in our engagement with Myanmar," an Indian foreign ministry official told Reuters. "We have worked hard to have cordial ties and this visit is a reflection of those efforts."

Than Shwe's visit has assumed special significance for New Delhi after insurgent groups in India's northeast -- many of them hiding in jungles across the border in Myanmar and Bangladesh -- stepped up violence with a wave of bombings and shooting, killing 63 people earlier this month.

Though Myanmar has helped India by coming down on some of these rebel groups in the past, New Delhi is expected to press Than Shwe for fresh military action to evict the guerrillas. The military strongman is scheduled to hold talks on Monday with Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two countries are also due to sign security and cultural pacts and an agreement to build a hydroelectric project in Myanmar.

India's policy on Myanmar has not been in tune with the rest of the world, which treats the military junta as a pariah for its strong-arm tactics against a pro-democracy campaign.

New Delhi was among the first countries to oppose Myanmar's military rulers in the late 1980s.

But worried over the rising influence of China in Myanmar, the activities of Indian rebel groups in the region and the need to have land routes to ASEAN countries, India did a dramatic turnaround in the early 1990s and pushed bilateral initiatives in trade, investment and security.

The two countries now aim to double bilateral trade to $1 billion (550 million pounds) in 2006 from last year's levels.

The moves have not gone down well with Myanmarese exiles living in India who staged a demonstration to protest against Than Shwe's visit on Saturday. "I understand the compulsions of the government of India to have good relations with the military regime but I feel this is not the right time to receive Than Shwe," said Soe Myint, editor of New Delhi-based Mizzima news Web site, which supports the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar.

"He is a hardliner responsible for last week's changes in Burma. Hosting him could send a wrong message to the people of Burma who are struggling for democracy and the international community," he said.

Reuters 24/10/2004


2. India welcomes Myanmar military strongman who sacked its premier

NEW DELHI : India welcomed Myanmar's army strongman General Than Shwe, who arrived on an official visit days after sacking his prime minister in what was seen as a bid to promote military hardliners.

It is the first time for 24 years that a head of state from the secretive country has visited India.

The Myanmar leader, accompanied by a high-level cabinet delegation whose portfolios include industry, energy and communications, was greeted at the airport by junior foreign minister E. Ahamad and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.

Than Shwe last Monday sacked Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, architect of the country's "road map" to democracy and a relative moderate within the ruling military which has held power in one form or another since 1962.

Myanmar exiles in India criticised his visit.

The general will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for what India said would be wide-ranging talks on bilateral, regional and global issues.

India's pursuit of good ties with Myanmar is part of its "Look East" drive and also aimed at offsetting China's clout in the region.

It said it expected the visit "to contribute significantly to further consolidation and expansion of bilateral relations".

The visit has become even more important for New Delhi after an upsurge of violence in the insurgency-racked northeast. More than 60 people died in a wave of rebel blasts this month.

New Delhi wants Yangon's support in cracking down on the anti-Indian rebels allegedly sheltering in Myanmar and other neighbouring nations.

"India is not in any way jettisoning its commitment to democracy but we have to be aware of our limitations in exporting democracy. It's not an easy proposition," said C. Uday Bhaskar, director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis.

"Engagement is not necessarily an endorsement," he said. "It would be strategically imprudent not to engage with Myanmar."

The current ruling military rulers seized power in 1988 after a peaceful uprising led by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi culminated in hundreds of deaths. She has been intermittently under house arrest for years.

"The visit sends the wrong signal to the Burmese (Myanmarese) people who are struggling for restoration of democracy," said Soe Myint, editor-in-chief of the New Delhi-based Mizzima News group which focuses on Myanmar-related issues.

This month former defence minister George Fernandes said India could not "boast to be the world's largest democracy and do nothing for the (democratic) cause in Burma".

India once strongly backed Aung San Suu Kyi but has been wooing the Myanmar military leadership since the early 1990s, promoting trade and investment and seeking to counter China's influence with its eastern neighbour. -

AFP 24/10/2004