External Affairs

Myanmar, India Reiterate Commitment to Join Hands Against Insurgency

Besides security concerns, connectivity was the main theme during the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President U Htin Kyaw.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: As Myanmar delicately balanced its relations with its two giant neighbours during the first overseas visit of President U Htin Kyaw to India, both countries stressed the need to respect each other’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” and reiterated that insurgent groups will not be allowed use their soil “for hostile activities against the other side”.

Htin Kyaw’s visit came soon after Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi visited China for her first trip abroad after the National League of Democracy won the general elections by a landslide and formed the government in March 2014. Suu Kyi will be in India in October to attend the outreach event with BIMSTEC countries during the BRICS summit on October 16.

Htin Kyaw, a former aide of Suu Kyi, was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt on Monday morning, which was followed by delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House.

After the discussions, Modi said that in a statement that both leaders “recognized that our security interests are closely aligned”.

“And, we agreed on the need to remain sensitive to each other’s strategic interests and concerns. To this end, President and I agreed to work together for the safety and security of our people. And, actively cooperate to combat the common challenges of terrorism and insurgent activity in our region,” he added.

India has been concerned about increasing activities by insurgent groups, like NSCN-Khaplang and others, who have camps in remote mountainous parts of Myanmar near the Indian border. The Myanmarese authorities have been helpful in keeping the insurgent groups on a relatively tight leash in recent years, even though they have a ceasefire pact with NSCN-K.

As recently as last week, Indian army had an encounter with NSCN-K, which according to official records took place along the Indo-Myanmar border. Earlier reports on August 21 had said that Indian army commandos crossed over the border, but this was later denied by the defence ministry.

In June last year, the Indian army had launched an operation against NSCN-K after 18 Assam Rifles soldiers were killed in an ambush. The minister of state for information and broadcasting Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had first claimed that it was a cross-border operation, but it was then retracted. The Myanmar government was not too pleased by this incident.

Even as both leaders talked of strengthening security and defence cooperation, the joint statement also added that “both sides reiterated their commitment to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other and to continue practising the policy of not allowing any insurgent groups to use their soil for hostile activities against the other side”.

With “sound border management” being stressed by the two neighbours, the statement said that both “emphasized the need for enhanced cooperation between security forces and border guarding agencies for securing peace, security and stability in the border areas, which is crucial for overall development”.

India extended support for Myanmar’s own efforts to forge peace among its disparate ethnic rebel groups, just two days ahead of a major peace conference which will also be attended by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon.

“I have also conveyed India’s full support to the peace process initiative under the 21st Century Panglong Conference,” Modi said.

Suu Kyi choosing China as her first destination had been partly to secure Beijing’s backing to certain ethnic military groups, whose constructive participation in the peace conference would be key to its success.

Besides security concerns, connectivity remained the main theme for India-Myanmar discussions.

“Myanmar is special for us. It holds a unique position in India’s neighbourhood. It is a land bridge that connects India with Southeast Asia,” said Modi.

Two out of the four agreements signed today are to fill in the gaps to construct the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway. These talked about building and upgrading 69 bridges and constructing the Kalewa-Yargi section.

The signing of the trilateral pact had first been deferred due to Myanmar’s elections. Now, with the Myanmar government in place, the delay is due to Thailand’s objections over the protocol negotiations, sources indicated.

The trilateral highway will be linked to India’s Kaladan multi-modal transit and transport corridor which aims to link the landlocked northeast to Myanmar’s Sittwe port, as well as other Indian sea ports on the eastern coast. The 158 km waterway component on the Kalenda river from Sittwe to Paletwa is nearly complete – over 90%. The Indian prime minister announced that it will be finished within 2016. The road component may be finished by 2017-18.

India has also offered to enhance development partnership with Myanmar, which currently stands at about $2 billion. “And, do so as per the priorities of the Myanmar Government,” added Modi.

Modi also said that India was “willing to substantially scale up our supply of power”. A tentative step towards that direction was the supply of three megawatts to the Myanmarese border town of Tamu through the northeast grid.

The prime minister also indicated that Myanmar is a part of India’s widening search for a steady supply of pulses, which has gone as far as Africa. “We have also agreed to work towards a long-term and a mutually beneficial arrangement for trade in pulses,” he said.

On the cultural front, Modi offered help to repair of temples in Bagan which were damaged during last week’s earthquake. The Archaeological Survey of India is already restoring the Ananda temple in Bagan.

The joint statement added that India had confirmed its commitment to a project “to preserve and conserve stone inscriptions and temples of King Mindon and King Bagyidaw of Myanmar in Bodh Gaya”.