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Indian role in Myanmar wins praise

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has thanked New Delhi for prodding the country's military rulers to talk to him.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2007 11:22 IST

India has won praise from both the United Nations and the Myanmar military over its quiet diplomacy of pushing the junta into reconciliation talks with various opposition groups to end weeks of unrest.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has thanked New Delhi for prodding the country's military rulers to talk to him after they initially sounded hostile to any foreign intervention to end Myanmar's internal troubles.

At the same time, India made it clear to the junta that only negotiations with everyone in the opposition, not just the jailed Aung San Suu Kyi, would bring an element of stability to the country.

But the Indian government has refused to heed calls by Western powers, in particular the US, to impose economic sanctions against Myanmar, saying that the isolation of the junta would only make matters worse.

The junta, led by its head Than Shwe, has also appreciated New Delhi's stand, although the Indian moves - less publicized, unlike China's -- have disappointed the vocal Western countries and sections of Myanmar's opposition figures.

India has told the junta that besides Aung San Suu Kyi, it needs to engage with different ethnic groups in Myanmar, particularly the more restive ones and those capable of unleashing violence.

New Delhi has also informed other countries - located near and far - that its dominant concern vis-a-vis Myanmar with which it has a long and porous border, would be its own (India's) strategic interests.

India does not want any dramatic destabilisation of Myanmar in the name of democracy that would inject unrest in that country and possibly help separatists in the Indian northeast to take sanctuary there.

It realises the need to carefully balance its interests - gently nudging the junta to make peace with those in the opposition while continuing India's multi-faceted economic linkages with Myanmar.

The Indian diplomatic offensive followed weeks of mass unrest and a military crackdown in Myanmar that saw many killed and thousands jailed following a fuel price hike in August.

Unlike in 1988 when similar mass protests also shook Myanmar, India did not denounce the military junta this time. Instead, it took days before issuing its first public statement.

By then there was intense Western pressure on India - and China - to get tough with Myanmar. Both were berated for their military and other economic links with the junta.

Although publicly India did not say much beyond urging the Myanmar rulers to reach out to the opposition, it quietly pressed the military to open talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

It also asked the junta to meet UN envoy Gambari, who has just ended a six-day visit to Myanmar during which he met Aung San Suu Kyi and also the country's new Prime Minister, General Thein Sein.

The junta was also told, in so many words, that it needed to change.

At the same time, the Indian establishment realises that the Myanmar military cannot be wished away as it is one of the pillars of the country and has brought peace to a country torn by decades of ethnic unrest.

India also has no intention of downgrading its economic relations with Myanmar that cover various sectors - from IT to infrastructure.