New Delhi: Amid reports of his central role in a power struggle in Myanmar, the country’s second highest ranked general, Maung Aye, will visit India in early April to take forward an initiative that will give land-locked states in the North-East access to the Bay of Bengal.
The visit is also being seen in some circles as a win for India’s diplomatic efforts to counter China’s growing influence in Myanmar.
The Indian government on Thursday paved the way for the country to pay for and be involved in upgrading Myanmar’s Sittwe port and Kaladan waterway, when it approved a Rs535.91 crore multi-modal transit transport project under the “Aid to Myanmar” initiative. The money will be used to upgrade the Sittwe port as well as make the Kaladan river navigable all the way up to the Mizoram border. It will also be used to construct a 117km-long road within India as well as another road across the Myanmarese border to the town of Kalewa.
The idea is to connect the national highways network in India with the Kaladan waterway right up to Sittwe port on the Bay of Bengal, an official in the ministry of external affairs, who did not wish to be identified, said.
The fact that Bangladesh has refused to give any transit rights for trucks to carry goods through to the North-East makes the Myanmar project that much more significant.
“The project will provide access to Mizoram and to other North-eastern states as well as an outlet to the sea,” a government spokesperson said. The project will be executed by the Inland Waterways Authority of India.
Significantly, however, Delhi only won the Sittwe award in January (soon after the visit of Myanmarese foreign minister Nyan Win) after it agreed to change the terms of the project from build, operate and transfer to build, operate and use. This means ownership and control of the port will remain with Myanmar; Delhi will only be able to “use’’ it, the ministry official said.
India is in the middle of planning several other economic projects in Myanmar. In October, it extended a $60 million (Rs241.2 crore) line of credit for a hydroelectric project at Taktecheung. Another line of credit worth $64 million is in the pipeline for building three transmission lines. India is also setting up an IT park worth Rs7 crore in Yangon.
Maung’s visit comes at a time when he is in a bitter factional feud with Myanmar’s seniormost general Than Shwe. A number of generals close to Than Shwe are being investigated for corruption, the Asia Times website said, quoting Myanmarese sources.