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India rushes aid to Myanmar, helping warming ties

india Updated: May 05, 2008 23:41 IST
Bappa Majumdar
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India rushed relief and medical supplies to cyclone-hit Myanmar on Monday, underscoring warming ties between the two neighbours.

Hundreds of labourers were loading food items, blankets, clothing and tents into two naval ships at Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

"The ships will sail as soon as possible and any time now," he said.

A Myanmar-based diplomat told Reuters the country's military junta estimated at least 10,000 people died and 3,000 were missing after the cyclone hit the Irrawaddy delta on Saturday.

The Indian foreign ministry said in a statement that, "in keeping with India's historical, close and good neighbourly ties with the friendly people of Myanmar, the government of India is providing immediate relief assistance to Myanmar.

India has economic and military ties with Myanmar. It is competing with China for access to Myanmar's oil and gas and in return has promised to build infrastructure.

Last month, India signed an agreement to build a multimillion-dollar seaport and improve roads and waterways inside Myanmar.

The deal will give India a foothold on the Myanmar city of Sittwe, on an island near the mouth of the Kaladan river, which will become the onshore hub of Myanmar's gas industry once vast reserves in the Shwe fields in the Bay of Bengal are developed.

India began improving relations with Myanmar after Bangladesh, which sits between the Indian mainland and its far-flung northeast, refused India transit facilities.

Analysts said India's move to quickly send relief to Myanmar would help relations further.

"I think this gesture will off course improve relations between the two countries further ... which at the moment is very good," said Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea, former director of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi.

India's prime minister, president and all senior officials sent condolence messages to the military rulers, an MEA spokesman said. "They also conveyed India's readiness to provide immediate emergency relief and help Myanmar in rebuilding."