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'India asked to arm anti-junta groups'

Urging for a change in Indian foreign policy towards Myanmar, the National League of Democracy's Tint Swe says he believes that "If not today, democracy will prevail soon".

delhi Updated: Nov 13, 2007 11:39 IST

One of the top Myanmar opposition leaders in exile has asked India to arm the country's pro-democracy parties with military and financial aid while snapping all defence sales to the ruling military junta.

Urging for a change in Indian foreign policy towards Myanmar, the National League of Democracy's Tint Swe said he believed that "If not today, democracy will prevail soon".

"If India is not going to change its policy then it will have to work harder, maybe for a decade, for better ties with a democratic regime," said Swe, who had fled to India after he was elected a member of parliament in the 1990 elections, which were not accepted by the military.

Delivering a talk Monday, he drew parallels between India's cautious policy toward Myanmar, as opposed to a bolder approach by China, which had maintained contacts with both the regime and opposition groups.

"The Chinese ambassador was the first envoy to congratulate NLD in 1990, when we won the parliamentary election," he said, adding: "This continues now with China's key role in facilitating the visit of UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Myanmar. He was also received at Yangon airport by the Chinese ambassador. The Indian envoy in Myanmar, however, scrupulously avoids any interface with the Myanmar opposition."

He pointed out that India had issued its first official statement 19 days after China had reacted to the pro-democracy street protests led by Buddhist monks that began in August.

"Burmese people did not understand why the mother of Buddhism did not say anything when monks were being shot," he said.

However, he did appreciate that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had spoken of "inclusiveness and national reconciliation" in that statement. Swe also said India had called for the release of NLD leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from custody "after a silence of over a decade".

Calling for Indian military aid for Burmese opposition groups, he said that the "message from the Burmese people" was to stop Indian arms sales to the military junta.

"Short term commercial interest prevails over long-term national interest," Swe commented, referring to India's energy security needs due to which it is treading sensitively in Myanmar.

Two interesting suggestions were that the Myanmar opposition should be allowed to set up radio stations in India rather than broadcast from Norway.

Further, he called for a revival of the Burmese broadcast of All India Radio, which Swe said was the most relied upon news source during the 1988 uprising. "Frankly, right now it is wasting tax payers' money," said Swe.

While advocating sustained violent and non-violent opposition to the military junta, Swe asserted that Myanmar would not fall apart if there were to be a regime change.

"The Burmese army will have a role to play in the transition and in the future of the country," he said.