22 January 2007

India to supply military equipment to Myanmar

We are willing to expand ambit of military cooperation between two countries, says Pranab Mukherjee in a major Indian policy shift.

22 January 2007
The Hindu

India to supply military equipment to Myanmar

Siddharth Varadarajan

Naypyitaw: India has promised Myanmar's military rulers a "favourable response" to their request for military equipment.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee conveyed the Indian decision to Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, number two in the hierarchy of the military-run State Peace and Development Council regime, during a 45-minute meeting held on Sunday morning.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr. Mukherjee said he told his hosts that India was willing to expand the ambit of military cooperation between the two countries. A specific request for equipment had been made by General Thura Shwe Mann, the regime's number three, during his visit to Delhi last December. "We have examined that request and decided to give a favourable response," Mr. Mukherjee said.

Though Indian officials said they would only provide more details about the nature of the equipment when the actual transfers took place, Myanmarese opposition groups and publications such as irrawady.com have reported in the past that the Myanmar military was seeking helicopters, mortars and radar equipment from India.

New chapter

The prospect of Indian arms sales to Myanmar opens a new chapter in the relationship. Until now, India has preferred to limit its military-to-military cooperation to the provision of training and the sharing of information on the activity of insurgent groups.

Apart from equipment, Mr. Mukherjee said the Myanmar side wanted Indian help in servicing and upgrading their MiG fighter fleet. But since the intellectual property rights were Russian, this would require prior consent from Moscow.

Sprawling complex

The meeting between Mr. Mukherjee and General Maung Aye took place in the sprawling Defence Ministry complex at one end of Naypyitaw. So vast is Myanmar's new capital that it took the Minister's motorcade more than 30 minutes of high-speed driving through traffic-less highways to reach the complex from his hotel. At points within the military zone, the four-lane highway gave way to eight lanes, specifically designed to allow small aircraft to take off and land.

On Saturday, Mr. Mukherjee met Prime Minister Soe Win as well as the Ministers for religious affairs and planning.

Another issue which figured prominently in his discussions here, said Mr. Mukherjee, was the fencing of certain stretches of the border. In particular, both countries had agreed to undertake fencing in the Kabaw valley region bordering Manipur. "We hope that this will now be expedited."


As for the Indian insurgent groups which have taken shelter on the Myanmarese side and maintain training camps there, Mr. Mukherjee said the Indian Government gave information to Myanmar from time to time "and they do cooperate."

Nevertheless, in his meeting with Gen. Maung Aye, the Minister suggested the building of institutional mechanisms for military commanders on both sides to coordinate their efforts. According to Mr. Mukherjee, the Vice-Senior General welcomed the idea but noted that the terrain on the Myanmar side was inaccessible by motorised transport and could be approached by soldiers only by foot. Mr. Mukherjee said India was prepared to offer any assistance needed in this regard. "Of course, we didn't mention joint operations because that is not possible," the Minister added.

On his part, the General suggested these issues should be discussed in more depth at the operations level.

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