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Myanmar president in India this week

Myanmar president in India this week
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First Published: Tue, Oct 11 2011. 01 22 AM IST

File photo of Myanmar’s civilian President U. Thein Sein. Photo by Bloomberg.
File photo of Myanmar’s civilian President U. Thein Sein. Photo by Bloomberg.
Updated: Tue, Oct 11 2011. 01 22 AM IST
New Delhi: Myanmar’s new civilian president, U. Thein Sein, will be in India this week, the foreign ministry said on Monday, his first visit to the country since taking office after the November polls that brought limited democracy to the military-ruled nation.
Thein Sein’s three-day “state visit” will start on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in a post on his Twitter account, but did not give further details.
File photo of Myanmar’s civilian President U. Thein Sein. Photo by Bloomberg.
Thein Sein is visiting India at the invitation of President Pratibha Patil. The invite was extended during foreign minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Myanmar in June.
The visit was announced on a day a senior US official said there were “dramatic developments under way” in Myanmar, with Thein Sein’s military-backed government showing increasing signs of political reform.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has been criticized by Western countries for being among the few nations to engage military-ruled Myanmar, making investments in the energy and infrastructure sectors, and opposing sanctions as counterproductive, citing economic and security compulsions.
Since assuming Myanmar’s top job in March, Thein Sein, a former general who shed his uniform for the election, has held talks with pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from detention soon after the 7 November polls. Under the previous regime, she spent 15 of the last 21 years in jail or under house arrest.
Reports say Suu Kyi now has been allowed to travel across the country, meet envoys from the US and the United Nations, and address audiences through video-conferencing.
These moves prompted Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, to say on Monday in a speech in the Thai capital Bangkok that there are “dramatic developments under way” in Myanmar including a “very consequential dialogue” between democracy icon Suu Kyi and the leadership, AFP reported.
Campbell made his remarks as Myanmar government officials said a prisoner amnesty, which would include some 2,000 political detainees, was imminent. Rights groups have long said that the release of political prisoners is essential.
US President Barack Obama’s administration has pursued both diplomatic engagement and continued sanctions against Myanmar.
In another surprise move last month, Thein Sein ordered work on a controversial $3.6 billion (Rs 17,676 crore) mega dam to stop after rare public opposition to the Chinese-backed hydropower project.
Besides India, China has also been a supporter of Myanmar’s former military regime led by General Than Shwe, investing millions of dollars in infrastructure and other areas.
India, which shares a 1,640km unfenced border with Myanmar, was a staunch supporter of Suu Kyi, but reversed its policy in the mid-1990s when it realized insurgent groups operating in its North-East were using Myanmar as a springboard to launch attacks.
The engagement has yielded dividends. In July, during a visit to India by military junta chief Than Shwe, India signed a mutual legal assistance agreement with Myanmar through which Indian insurgents held in that country can be deported for trial under Indian law—a pact hanging fire for two-and-a-half decades.
India has also been keen to tap oil and gas fields in Myanmar, and fears losing out to China in the race for strategic space in Asia.
AFP contributed to this story.
elizabeth.r@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Oct 11 2011. 01 22 AM IST