India cautions on 'adverse' UN probe

India has questioned the value of holding a UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into war crimes in Burma, an Indian diplomat recently told a General Assembly committee.

The probe, now supported by more than a dozen nations, may be “counter productive” and “end up adversely affecting the very people it is supposed to help,” Acquino Vimal said, according to the Press Trust of India.

Vimal pointed out that UN chief Ban Ki-Moon’s recent report on Burma made no mention of the CoI, which was first proposed in March by UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana. “We believe that the focus of efforts of the international community should be on ensuring constructive engagement with Myanmar [Burma],” Vimal said.

In comments which bore a striking resemblance to Chinese policy on Burma, Vimal also stressed the importance of “peace and stability” on India’s borders. Burma’s controversial 7 November elections would be a “step forward” in the country’s “national reconciliation process and democratic transition,” he added.

The diplomat’s comments come days after Nobel-prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen made a statement bemoaning his country’s policies towards the Burmese regime. In July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed junta leader Senior General Than Shwe on a state visit to India.

“It breaks my heart to see the prime minister of my democratic country – and one of the most humane and sympathetic political leaders in the world – engage in welcoming the butchers from Burma and to be photographed in a state of cordial proximity,” AFP quoted Sen as saying. India had forgotten its ideals and was emulating China because of fears over its communist rival’s growing influence in the region, he said.

While India used to offer unqualified support to Burma’s democracy movement, over the past two decades it has changed tack. The country is now investing heavily in Burma, particularly in the energy and extraction industries, and maintains a strategic partnership with the country in a bid to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

Momentum behind the UN commission of inquiry, which would investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity by the junta and Burma’s ethnic rebel armies, appears to be flagging. Although 13 countries, led by the United States, back the probe, the Washington Post recently revealed that China is engaged in a diplomatic campaign to scupper the investigation.

Professor Ian Holliday, a specialist in China-Burma relations at the University of Hong Kong, recently told DVB that the Chinese Communist Party may also fear investigations into its own human rights record. “The core concern is not to allow anybody to stick their nose into China,” he said.

China and Burma maintain an uneasy alliance, with the larger country enjoying access to Burma’s resources and backing the junta on the international stage. China is also believed to see the military as the best bet for ensuring stability on its borders.

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