Myanmar ties

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Delhi
  • Published 7.12.06
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New Delhi, Dec. 7: Shunned by world powers, the junta that runs Myanmar has prised wide open the door for military cooperation with India.

Its military chief, General Thura Shwe Mann, is set to be given a briefing at the Eastern Command headquarters in Fort William, Calcutta, tomorrow.

The briefing will focus on the insurgency situation in the Northeast and even a note from the army on what kind of cooperation it would expect from Yangon.

Thura Shwe, who is Myanmar’s chief of general staff and possibly the second-most important leader of the military junta after Senior General Than Shwe, arrived in India on Monday on a five- day visit.

On Tuesday, he flagged off a car rally, in which Indian and Myanmarese army officials are participating, from India Gate.

He stood alongside defence minister A.K. Antony and the Indian Army chief, General Joginder Jaswant Singh, at the ceremony.

Thura Shwe comes to Calcutta after being given a tour of the National Defence Academy — India’s premier officer training school for its armed forces — in Khadakvasla.

He also visited the headquarters of the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Tata Motors plant in Pune that manufactures vehicles for the military.

Thura Shwe’s trip follows the visit by Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, who is also the chairman, chiefs of staff committee, to Yangon last month.

Earlier, in October 2004, India had welcomed Than Shwe. But if that was a diplomatic exercise — because Delhi is anxious of the strategic space Beijing is winning in Myanmar — Thura Shwe’s visit is almost entirely military in nature and intended to underpin the relations.

Delhi is finally coping with military regimes both in its east and to its west, engaging Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the Myanmarese military leadership at different planes. This is despite US economic sanctions on Myanmar and a United Nations Security Council Resolution castigating Yangon for its poor human rights record and the arrest of dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Thura Shwe is understood to have held discussions with Indian Army leaders in Delhi and explored the possibility of opening Indian military institutions for training the Myanmarese army.

Indian and Myanmarese military exchanges have been growing since 2004 but the number of visits this year has suddenly shot up. Defence secretary Shekhar Dutt quietly visited Yangon in September. In November last year, General J.J. Singh had done the same.

India has also begun transferring military hardware to Myanmar — mostly 105 mm light artillery Indian Field Guns — and is likely to sell Hindustan Aeronautics-manufactured Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters.

India, which shares a 1,643-km boundary with Myanmar, has also sought its neighbour’s assistance in dealing with Northeast insurgents. The establishment of a “listening post” by China in the Coco Islands, just north of the Andaman Islands, in the early 1990s was one of the reasons India began reworking its relations with Myanmar’s military despite its moral support for Suu Kyi.

But even then there was a question mark over whether diplomatic engagement would deepen into military cooperation. That issue has probably been settled during Thura Shwe’s visit.