Mar 11, 2008 (AFP), India will host a top general from Burma’s ruling junta next month and is likely to sign a pact to develop a key port in the southeast Asian country, a senior Indian official said Sunday.
Vice-senior General Maung Aye will arrive here on 4 April with economic cooperation, security and energy topping the agenda of talks with Indian leaders, said the government official, who did not wish to be named.
Maung Aye’s three-day visit comes four years after one by military strongman Than Shwe.
The highpoint of the upcoming visit is expected to be the signing of a pact that pledges 130 million dollars of Indian investment to develop Burma’s Sittwe port, aimed at giving India’s landlocked northeast access to a new trade route to southeast Asia.
Once developed, the port will allow cargo vessels from India’s Mizoram state to navigate the Kaladan River to Sittwe on the edge of the Bay of Bengal.
The port project would mark the latest venture between New Delhi and military-ruled Burma.
In August, New Delhi pledged 150 million dollars for gas exploration in Burma amidst pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks against the country’s military rulers.
Those investment plans drew criticism from the international community, which has been urging New Delhi and Beijing to pressure Burma to speed up democratic reforms.
New Delhi has consistently opposed economic sanctions describing it as counterproductive but says it is urging Burma to introduce reforms that are "broad-based, including pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi and various ethnic nationalities."
New Delhi, which was until the mid-1990s a staunch supporter of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, has cultivated close ties with Burma’s military rulers in recent years, citing its huge energy requirements.
Since New Delhi began engaging the Burmese generals, both sides have cooperated in flushing out northeastern rebels along the joint border.
India is also competing for influence with its main Asian rival, China.
New Delhi, which has twice hosted UN special envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari, said in January it was "worried" Burma was not moving fast enough on democratic reform.