Narendra Modi says India shares Myanmar’s concerns on ‘extremist violence’
New Delhi: India on Wednesday said it shared Myanmar’s concerns over “extremist violence” in its Rakhine state and urged all stakeholders to find a solution that respects the country’s unity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived in Naypyitaw on Tuesday, conveyed India’s position during talks with Myanmar state councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, who has come under mounting criticism for failing to speak up for her country’s minority Rohingya Muslim community.
Modi and Suu Kyi also agreed to combat terrorism and boost security cooperation with Modi emphasizing that it was important to maintain stability along the long land and maritime borders of the two countries.
In his comments to journalists after talks with Suu Kyi, Modi said India understands the problems being faced by Myanmar and shares its concerns over “extremist violence” in the Rakhine state, especially the loss of innocent lives of civilians and the military personnel.
“When it comes to a big peace process or finding a solution to a problem, we hope that all stakeholders can work together towards finding a solution which respects the unity and territorial integrity of Myanmar,” Modi said. At the same time, the solution can bring about peace, justice, dignity and democratic values for all, he said.
Modi’s comments can be taken as a signal of support for Suu Kyi who has been under international pressure over the treatment of Rohingya refugees, more than 100,000 of whom have poured across into Bangladesh in just two weeks after Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown in the northwestern Rakhine state.
The latest violence in Rakhine state began on 25 August when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh, a Reuters report said.
Myanmar officials blamed Rohingya militants for the burning of homes and civilian deaths, but rights monitors and Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh say the Myanmar army is trying to force them out with a campaign of arson and killings.
The treatment of Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s roughly 1.1 million Muslim Rohingyas is the biggest challenge facing Suu Kyi. Myanmar says its security forces are fighting a legitimate campaign against “terrorists.”
In her comments, Suu Kyi thanked India “particularly for its strong stance that it has taken with regard to terrorist threat that came to our country a couple of weeks ago.”
“We believe that together we can work to make sure that terrorism is not allowed to take root on our soil,” she said.
India’s words of implicit support for Suu Kyi come against the backdrop of its security concerns and anxiety over China’s increasing economic footprint in Myanmar.
India, which shares a 1,640-km border with Myanmar and has been worried about northeastern militant groups taking shelter in that country, has pledged to help Myanmar in areas ranging from agriculture to skill development. New Delhi has also moved to speed up connectivity projects with Myanmar, including the Asian Trilateral Highway project to link India and Myanmar with Thailand and beyond to Laos and Cambodia. India’s total development assistance to Myanmar currently is about $2 billion.
In recent years, Myanmar has seen a surge in Chinese economic presence—worrying India over the increase in Chinese influence at its periphery.
Beijing has signalled it may abandon the huge $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam hydroelectric project in Myanmar after protests by the people but it has pushed for concessions on other strategic undertakings—including the Bay of Bengal port at Kyauk Pyu, which gives it an alternative route for energy imports from the Middle East, news reports say. A special economic zone at Kyauk Pyu is expected to cover more than 4,200 acres (17 sq. km). It includes the $7.3 billion deep sea port and a $2.3 billion industrial park, with plans to attract industries such as textiles and oil refining, the reports said.
Given these, India has been wooing Myanmar with development assistance and connectivity projects. In his comments on Wednesday, Modi said “in future too India’s cooperation projects in Myanmar will keep in mind the needs and priorities of Myanmar.”
Eleven pacts were signed by India and Myanmar on Wednesday, reflecting these concerns and priorities—including one for boosting maritime security and another for the upgradation of a women’s police training centre.