India looks east, prepares to arm junta navy

As western governments gathered to condemn the junta’s election at the UN, India undeterred welcomes Lt Gen Thar Aye to the eastern city of Kolkata.

He will visit India’s ‘eastern command headquarters’, this comes amidst a claim by the city’s Telegraph newspaper that India is preparing to sell Burma new patrol boats.

Lt Gen Thar Aye is the junta’s head of the bureau of special operations and will no doubt discuss India’s insurgent worries along the shared border.

India’s north eastern states are riddled with separatist movements, whom the Indian’s allege take shelter over the border in Burma. The Indian government has been keen to engage their junta counterparts with a view to joint operations to stamp out the rebel groups. This predicament analysts believe has been occurring for years with limited results.

Of particular concern is the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Captured ULFA soldiers have made the claim that they operate bases in Burma and have links with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Thar Aye is on most western sanctions lists and holds the position of chief of the Bureau of Special Operations 1 (BSO1), which makes him effectively the ‘field commander’ for the north, north west and central commands, a higher rank than regional ‘commanders’.

He was promoted to the said position in 2008 and was previously the regional commander of western Sagaing division. Now he oversees a larger area including Sagaing, but the region is believed to shelter Indian separatist rebels.

He is scheduled to meet Indian Lt Gen Bikram Singh, in early April, who will take over as chief of India’s eastern command later this year.

The naval deal was believed to have been signed in February when Vice-Admiral Nyan Tun also visited India.

India has consistently sought closer ties with the junta since the late 90’s when the government seemingly made a U turn on previous support of the Burmese democracy movements. This U turn was epitomised by the controversial Operation Leech, in which a number of Burmese opposition activists were lured to Indian territory only to be killed or arrested.

The reasoning seems to be the increased energy needs of India and a competitive geo-political rivalry with China for influence over the region.

India has a number of business and military deals with the junta; ranging from the recent inception of a Tata truck factory to military training and importantly, Indian state owned gas companies operating in Burma’s lucrative Bay of Bengal gas fields.

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