India on Tuesday signed a clutch of pacts to boost counter-terror cooperation and cement cultural ties with Myanmar, the energy-rich Southeast Asian country whose military junta is considered a pariah in many Western capitals.
The two countries signed five pacts after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with visiting Myanmar military ruler General Than Shwe over a wide range of issues, including counter-terror cooperation, enhanced energy ties and collaboration in a string of developmental projects.
Among the pacts is a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters that will be crucial in enabling India get access to insurgents from India's northeast states who continue to shelter along the sprawling 1,650-kilometer India-Myanmar border.
The treaty aims at deepening bilateral cooperation in combating transnational organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling of arms and explosives.
Increased collaboration for developing cross-border connectivity and infrastructure development figured prominently in the discussions.
The two sides also signed pacts in the areas of small development projects, science and technology and information cooperation.
A memorandum of understanding on Indian assistance in restoring the Ananda temple in Bagan, a renowned Buddhist shrine and a major tourist site in central Myanmar, was also inked.
Against the backdrop of China's growing clout in Myanmar, India has rolled out the red carpet to welcome Than Shwe, who began his five-day visit to the country Sunday by offering prayers at the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Than Shwe, who heads State Peace and Development Council, as the junta calls itself, was accorded a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan Tuesday morning.
He met Vice President Hamid Ansari, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Sawraj before sitting down for talks with the prime minister.
Than Shwe's visit to India, the world's most populous democracy, takes place days after the US renewed sanctions barring trade with companies tied to the junta in Myanmar. On the eve of the visit, the US has said it “expects to send a clear message to Burma that it needs to change its course".
Thousands of Myanmarese refugees staying in India for years aired their outrage at Than Shwe's visit and have urged the Indian government not to endorse the upcoming elections in that country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has officially said about 3,500 Myanmarese refugees are in India, with another 4,500 asylum seekers. Unofficial figures put the number at about 100,000, mostly in the northeastern states.
"We feel outraged with his visit as India is the largest democracy in the world, and the land of the Buddha and tolerance," said Tint Swe, who was elected a member of the Myanmarese parliament in 1990 and is now a leading member of the Burmese Pro-Democracy Movement in India.
India supported the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 led by iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but started engaging the junta in the mid-1990s in view of Beijing's surging trade, energy and defence deals with Myanmar.
Besides energy, India sees Myanmar as a gateway for increased connectivity of its northeastern states to Southeast Asia. The transport corridor that would give India's landlocked northeastern states access to the Bay of Bengal through the Myanmar port of Sittwe was also discussed between the two sides.