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PM envoy at junta leader’s funeral
Soe Win, Ambika Soni

New Delhi, Oct. 16: India returned to its balancing act on Myanmar on Sunday, when tourism and culture minister Ambika Soni quietly travelled to Yangon to attend the death ceremonies of Prime Minister General Soe Win.

Soni was said to be one of only three leaders who specially flew to Yangon for the funeral, the others being from China and Indonesia, providing an indication of the importance Delhi continues to attach to the stability of the junta.

The trip — Soni returned home by evening — came within weeks of Delhi seeking the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Now the Centre is getting ready to welcome the UN special envoy on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, who has called on the junta to stop detaining democracy activists.

Gambari, who will arrive in Delhi on October 23, is likely to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee and foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon.

From Delhi, Gambari will travel to China, Myanmar’s other big ally, UN officials said.

Soni’s unpublicised flight to Myanmar on Sunday as the Prime Minister’s special envoy is a sign of Delhi’s success in balancing its relationships with the junta and the pro-democracy movement led by Suu Kyi.

Sources said it was also a measure of Manmohan’s trust in her to fulfil a delicate mission.

Soni met Myanmar’s top general, Than Shwe, at the condolence and Buddhist prayer ceremonies held just before the funeral. While several western ambassadors signed the condolence book, all western leaders and their representatives skipped the prayer ceremony.

Besides Soni, special envoys from China and Indonesia and UN representatives were said to be the only foreigners present.

Over the last month, as Myanmar’s generals ordered a crackdown on protesting Buddhist monks, India, with one eye on China, has walked a tightrope.

Delhi is aware that Soe Win, who died of leukaemia on Sunday, was known abroad as the “Butcher of Depayin” for his role in an attack on Suu Kyi’s motorcade on May 30, 2003, in which 70 of her supporters were killed. Suu Kyi herself has been under house arrest ever since.

Soe Win was a trusted aide of Than Shwe and was in the running for the top job in Myanmar.

However, as the military cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations last month, Delhi participated in an European Union-sponsored human rights resolution on Myanmar, calling for Suu Kyi’s freedom.

At the same time, Delhi publicly protested against the call for sanctions against Myanmar. In New York this month, Pranab Mukherjee met his Myanmarese counterpart and asked for an investigation into the massacre.

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