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Burmese refugees disappointed over Than Shwe's India visit

Thousands of Burmese refugees staying in India are upset over the visit of Myanmar military ruler General Than Shwe and have urged the Indian government not to endorse the upcoming elections in that country.

world Updated: Jul 27, 2010 17:11 IST

Thousands of Burmese refugees staying in India are upset over the visit of Myanmar military ruler General Than Shwe and have urged the Indian government not to endorse the upcoming elections in that country.

Than Shwe is on a five-day visit to India. He arrived on Sunday and went to pray at Bodh Gaya in Bihar.

India has been the home for a large number of refugees from Myanmar, most of whom came here to escape the human rights situation and suppression in that country.

"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 Burmese parliament in 1990 and is now a leading member of the Burmese Pro-Democracy Movement in India.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has officially said about 3,500 Myanmar refugees are in India, with another 4,500 asylum seekers. But, unofficially, about 100,000 Burmese refugees are said to be in India, mostly in the north-eastern states.

The Indian government had been a vocal supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi's democracy movement, but it changed its foreign policy with the introduction of its Look East policy in the 1990s and went for intensified engagement with the military junta.

Some Burmese refugees Tuesday pasted posters denouncing the military junta around the Maurya Sheraton five-star hotel where Than Shwe is staying. None of them were detained or arrested.

They also plan a sit-in at Jantar Mantar. A larger demonstration had been held Monday at the same venue with posters.

In a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, they urged India not to give its stamp on the forthcoming elections to be held in Myanmar.

"Burmese military chief will ask for India's endorsement for the upcoming election to be held in a few months…. So far no country in the world is ready to support that sham election. We strongly hope that India will not give a clean chit to the 2010 election," it said.

Tint Swe, who drafted the memorandum, said India's security and economic concerns could be met better with a democratic Myanmar. "The Burmese generals never fulfil their promises," he said.

Similarly, Tin Tin Aung, a member of the Women's League of Burma, said "it was really a shame for the Indian president and prime minister to shake the bloodied hands of the general".

India changed its policy on Myanmar, when it observed with concern the inroads made by China which courted the junta to garner economic resources.

"India is different from China. India cannot compete with China on the economic front in Burma, as it will not win," said Tin Tin Aung, who has been in India since 1988.

A long-term Burma watcher, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri said the Myanmar junta has been "playing both the China and India card deftly".

A member of think-tank Calcutta Research Group, Chaudhuri said that India has often taken the bait of Myanmar dangling the China card. "We can definitely engage with the regime, but should not cross the limit," he said.

A professor of international relations, Chaudhuri said that India's rationale for changing its foreign policy has not really borne fruit. "Ultimately, the Burmese generals are favouring China. It has not helped India," he added.