20 January 2007

India not interested in exporting ideology: Pranab

Democracy, human rights are Myanmar's internal affair, says the External Affairs minister.

20 January 2007
The Hindu

India not interested in exporting ideology: Pranab

Siddharth Varadarajan

Yangon: Barely days after an unsuccessful American attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to censure Myanmar's military rulers, India has reiterated that the issue of democracy and human rights in Myanmar is "an internal matter" of that country.

Speaking to reporters here at the start of a three-day visit to Myanmar, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India had to deal with governments "as they exist ... We are not interested in exporting our own ideology. We are a democracy and we would like democracy to flourish everywhere. But this is for every country to decide for itself."


At the same time, Mr. Mukherjee noted that the Myanmar authorities had their own programme for "national reconciliation" and expressed the hope that this process would "lead to its logical conclusion."

On January 13, China and Russia vetoed a United States-sponsored resolution that sought to describe the internal situation in Myanmar as a threat to international peace and security.

Mr. Mukherjee — who is visiting Myanmar at the invitation of his counterpart, Major General U Nyan Win — arrived here on Friday night on a special flight from Kolkata. On Saturday, he will travel to the country's new capital, Nay Pyi Taw, for official talks.

Explaining the importance of Myanmar to India, Mr. Mukherjee said the two countries shared a border that was 1600 km long. "Myanmar is our only neighbour which is also a member of ASEAN. So our relationship is very much in keeping with India's `Look East' policy."

Issues highlighted

The two specific issues he highlighted were energy cooperation and enhanced transportation links between the two countries. Myanmar is an oil and gas-rich country, he noted, and ONGC Videsh and GAIL already had a 30 per cent stake in two offshore blocks. "We would like to increase our participation and also construct a natural gas pipeline from here to India," said Mr. Mukherjee. He added that the earlier agreement on running a pipeline via Bangladesh had run aground because Dhaka "put extraneous conditions" and now India was looking for a bilateral project.

According to Indian officials, the proposed pipeline would now enter India at Mizoram and extend for around 2,000 km through the north-east before reaching West Bengal. "Of course, in order to invest in such a pipeline, we need an assured supply of gas," said Mr. Mukherjee.

The issue of assured supplies has become crucial following reports that the Myanmar authorities are leaning towards exporting the bulk of their gas as LNG to the East Asian market.

Border infrastructure

Mr. Mukherjee said India was interested in developing border infrastructure and improving physical connectivity between Myanmar and India. In particular, India was keen to work on a project to connect Sittwe, Myanmar's principal port on the Bay of Bengal, with Mizoram via the Kaladan inland waterway and a purpose-built 65 km road. The idea, first mooted by India in 2002, has not made much progress, though officials say New Delhi is still serious.

Mr. Mukherjee's visit here caps a series of high-level bilateral political and military exchanges between the two sides beginning with the October 2004 visit to India by Senior General Than Shwe, head of Myanmar's military-run Government, and the March 2006 visit to Yangon of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. More recently, General Thura Shwe Mann, third in the official hierarchy of the State Peace and Development Council, visited India as did the Myanmar Home Minister, Maung Oo.

On all these visits, said Mr. Mukherjee, the Myanmar leadership assured New Delhi that elements hostile to India would not be allowed to use their country's territory. Though an important issue in general, Indian officials strongly denied that Mr. Mukherjee's visit was primarily intended to focus on action against ULFA and other insurgent outfits. Indeed, the subject did not explicitly figure in Mr. Mukherjee's own listing of India's priorities as far as Myanmar is concerned.

As for military-to-military cooperation, Mr. Mukherjee highlighted the fact that the three service chiefs of both countries had visited each other and that India was helping to train Myanmar military officers.

Asked about reports that India was offering military hardware to Myanmar, Indian officials denied this was the case.

No comments: