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Foreign Secretary to visit Myanmar as India reaches out to military regime for first time

Chief of Army Staff General MM Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla with Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Defence Forces General Min Aung Hlaing in Nay Pyi Taw on October 5, 2020 (Images courtesy: Embassy of India in Myanmar)

India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will be in Myanmar for two days starting Wednesday in what would be the first high-profile visit from New Delhi since the military seized power in the neighbouring country earlier this year.

The visit comes at a crucial time as the Narendra Modi government is not only concerned about the political and humanitarian situation in erstwhile Burma but also the insurgency-related incidents in India's North Eastern Region, especially along the India-Myanmar border. 

Besides, New Delhi does not want to upset the generals in Naypyidaw – a situation that would encourage them to fall further in the lap of China, India's arch-foe. Already, the Chinese have been prodding Myanmar to move faster to implement the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, deepening Bejing's access to the Bay of Bengal via Myanmar.

Earlier, India had handed over a conventional submarine to Myanmar, signalling the advanced military collaboration between the two countries, not too long ago.

Myanmar is also central to the trilateral Asian Highway project which also ropes in Thailand.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Foreign Secretary will be holding discussions with the State Administration Council, political parties and members of civil society.

"Issues relating to humanitarian support to Myanmar, security and India-Myanmar border concerns, and the political situation in Myanmar will be discussed," it said in a short statement ahead of Shringla's visit.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha last month, had revealed that India's northeastern region had witnessed 187 insurgency-related incidents till November 15 this year. The number was 163 in 2020 and as high as 824 in 2014.
 
In a dastardly attack on November 13, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Manipur Naga People's Front (MNPF) had claimed the responsibility for killing Colonel Viplav Tripathi of Assam Rifles, his wife and son along with four other personnel of the paramilitary force in an ambush at Churachandpur district of Manipur, not too far away from the border with Myanmar.

While paying homage to the soldiers and family members who were martyred, PM Modi had said that "their sacrifice will never be forgotten".

In a sign of thawing relations, Myanmar deported five PLA insurgents who were brought to Imphal on a special Indian Air Force flight, last week. 

Myanmar

Myanmar remains the only ASEAN country adjoining India and, being a gateway to South East Asia, holds a special significance in line with New Delhi's 'Act East' and 'Neighbourhood First' policies.

India is also the only country that shares a common land border with both Bangladesh and Myanmar. The land border with Myanmar extends to over 1643 kms with four northeastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram – having a boundary with the country.

The Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway Project, which is an East-West corridor connecting India's Northeast with Myanmar and Thailand, are some of the major projects involving India in Myanmar.

Besides working hard to link the energy grids of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar, New Delhi has been assisting Myanmar in several other key developmental projects. Under the MoU on Rakhine State Development Programme, India has committed to giving US $25 million of assistance to Myanmar over a period of five years.

However, the relations suffered a disruption after Myanmar's armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing launched a military coup on 1st February 2021 and seized power after deposing the democratically elected government and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other key leaders of the ruling party.  

It was reported on Monday that the military regime has deferred till December 27 the ongoing proceedings against the 76-year-old Nobel laureate. 

Myanmar

COAS General MM Naravane, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and India's Ambassador to Myanamar Saurabh Kumar with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in NayPyiTaw in this photo dated October 5, 2020

India had earlier this month said that it was "disturbed at the recent verdicts" and proceedings against Aung Sang Suu Kyi and others in Myanmar.

"As a neighbouring democracy, India has been consistently supportive of the democratic transition in Myanmar. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld. Any development that undermines these processes and accentuates differences is a matter of deep concern,"  MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said on December 7.

However, in spite of the worsening situation, India has continued to deliver humanitarian assistance, including supplying Covid-19 vaccines, to Myanmar.

Myanmar

India also contributed medical supplies worth USD 200,000 to ASEAN’s humanitarian initiative for Myanmar.

Both countries have maintained cooperation at various forums, including BIMSTEC Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (JWG-CTTC) of which India is the lead country.

It is with the aim of further restoring the lines of communication that Shringla will be travelling to Myanmar on Wednesday.  

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