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Exiled Myanmar leaders shocked by India's stance

world Updated: Sep 29, 2007 12:42 IST
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Exiled Myanmarese leaders are shocked by India's lukewarm stance following the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar, although analysts said New Delhi is walking a diplomatic tightrope to engage the junta for strategic reasons.

"It is indeed very shocking to find one of the world's largest democracies (India) adopting a nuanced approach when the military is trying to neutralise pro-democracy supporters in its next door neighbour," Min Maung, an exiled Burmese student leader and now a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Service (Burmese Service) in New Delhi, told IANS by telephone.

According to information reaching this border town in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, it was the 12th straight day Saturday since large-scale protests erupted against the ruling junta, which caused outrage in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation by doubling fuel prices on Aug 15.

"Even Communist China has come down heavily on the junta's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. The role of India is surely questionable although we still expect New Delhi to take some bold stand," Kyaw Than, president of the All Burmese Students' League, told IANS.

Than is among 2,500 Myanmarese nationals who fled to India after the military rulers cracked down on pro-democracy leaders in 1988. He is currently based in Imphal, the capital of Manipur.

India's external affairs ministry gave a guarded statement earlier this week expressing 'concern' over the recent turmoil in Myanmar at a time when the whole world is condemning the brutal attacks on protesting monks.

"As a close and friendly neighbour, India hopes to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Myanmar, where all sections of people will be included in a broad-based process of national reconciliation and political reform," an Indian foreign office statement said.

"India is caught in a Catch 22 situation with several strategic factors forcing a restrained stand -- primary reason being that New Delhi would like to offset China's influence on Myanmar by being a little soft on the junta," Said Wasbir Hussain, a security analyst on South Asian affairs based in the northeast.

China is considered the biggest military hardware supplier to Myanmar with Beijing attempting to encircle the junta-led nation of 47 million people. China is also engaging itself with Myanmar as a gateway to the Indian Ocean and as a route for minimising its dependence on the Malacca Strait for the movement of its energy supplies from West Asia and Africa.

"Myanmar has of late acknowledged the presence of several rebel groups from India's northeast in their country and its military have from time to time cracked down on the separatist bases. This is another reason for New Delhi to keep the junta on its side," Maung said.

Until the mid-1990s, India was openly supporting pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It was only in 2004 that New Delhi changed track and welcomed military strongman Gen Than Shwe during his visit to the capital.

"Security concerns prompted New Delhi to engage with the military junta, especially after Yangon launched several raids on Indian separatist bases," Hussain said.

The growing energy needs in India and Myanmar's large reserves of natural gas is also seen as one of the factors for New Delhi to adopt a middle path by not directly antagonising Yangon.

There were plans afoot to use natural gas from Myanmar with Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) conducting feasibility studies.

Some four to six trillion cubic feet (TFC) of gas reserves were discovered recently in Myanmar. "It would be economically cheaper to wheel back gas from Myanmar for use in India and considering the energy requirements, New Delhi must have decided to react cautiously to the ongoing developments," a petroleum ministry official said.

China and other Asian nations have also been eyeing Myanmar's vast energy resources.

Disregarding these issues, Than said: "India should avoid looking for petty interests and try prevailing upon Myanmar to check the brutalities. India should set an example by upholding democratic values or else India's image would slide among the international community."