PM Modi tells Suu Kyi India is with Myanmar, but skips mention of Rohingya issue
Prime Minister Narendra Modi fast-tracked on Wednesday India-led development initiatives in Myanmar and offered projects in the restive Rakhine province, where a guerrilla fight between Rohingya rebels and government forces has triggered a refugee crisis.
He expressed concern over “extremist violence” in Rakhine, but didn’t mention the alleged persecution of the minority Rohingya Muslim community, which the United Nations says could turn into a humanitarian catastrophe.
“We hope that all stakeholders together can find a way out in which unity and territorial integrity of Myanmar is respected,” he said in a joint statement with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, the Myanmarese capital.
Modi praised Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi’s “leadership” in his first bilateral visit to this Southeast Asian country, which is facing international pressure over 125,000 Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh in a fortnight after a military offensive against rebels in Rakhine.
“We have discussed committing Indian assistance to the Rakhine state development programme because we really believe that the medium-term way of addressing problems in the Rakhine area is really to look at development aspects,” foreign secretary S Jaishankar briefed the media.
Though India extended assistance for Rakhine, Modi’s government has taken a strong stand on an influx of about 40,000 Rohingyas over the years, vowing last month to deport them all.
Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, thanked India for taking a strong stand on the “terror threat” faced by her country.
She said India and Myanmar jointly can ensure that terrorism is not allowed to take root on their soil or in neighbouring countries.
India’s stand is viewed a strategy not to scupper its ties with Myanmar when Suu Kyi is increasingly under pressure over the Rohingya crisis, which UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned could lead to ethnic cleansing and regional destabilisation.
India shares a 1600km boundary with Myanmar along four northeastern states. Militants from the Northeast are known to have bases in the neighbouring country that the government there doesn’t approve, much to the relief of New Delhi.
Besides, a friendly Myanmar is important for India’s maritime security amid growing Chinese ambitions in the seas of the region.
Modi’s three-day visit is expected to build on the age-old ties with Myanmar, formerly Burma, home to a large population of Indian immigrants, especially in Rangoon that has been renamed Yangon.
During an interaction in Yangon with people of Indian origin, he said his government had taken big and tough decisions such as demonetisation of two high-value banknotes last November to fight corruption.
“A handful of corrupt people were making 125-crore people pay for their misdeeds. This was not acceptable for us,” he said in his 35-minute address.
The big takeaways of his first bilateral — after having visited Myanmar in 2014 for an Asean-India Summit — were the fast-tracking of a host of long-pending projects.
New Delhi will upgrade the Yagyi-Kalewa road for Rs 177 crore, which is part of the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway. A new border crossing will be opened in Manipur’s Moreh, which is a flourishing trade post for people of both countries.
India will also assist building an airport in the country.
“We are looking at fuel, we are looking at power transmission, we are looking at solar, we are looking at LED,” foreign secretary Jaishankar said, explaining possible Indian cooperation on energy.
In the health care sector, he said India has upgraded three hospitals in Myanmar.
“We are committed to building a hospital in Nay Pyi Taw. That is a new commitment,” he added.