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India begins supplying Myanmar military hardware

India has begun transferring military equipment to junta in order to neutralise China's burgeoning defence, economic ties with Yangon.

india Updated: Oct 04, 2006 16:46 IST
Rahul Bedi (IANS)
Rahul Bedi (IANS)

Ignoring protests from Western countries, India has begun transferring military equipment to Myanmar's military junta in order to neutralise China's burgeoning defence, diplomatic and economic ties with Yangon.

In August, unmindful of British protests, the Indian Navy transferred two BN-2 'Defender' Islander maritime surveillance aircraft and deck-based air-defence guns and varied surveillance equipment to Myanmar.

Soon after the navy announced its intention of supplying the British-built Islanders to Myanmar following Indian Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash's visit to Yangon in January, Britain had declared that it would be unable to provide spares and maintenance support for them as it opposed the country's military administration.

Alongside, India had quietly transferred other hardware to the Myanmarese military.

"We have recommended and started giving them (Myanmar) 105-mm Indian field guns," Indian Army Vice-Chief Lt Gen S Pattabhiraman told Force magazine recently.

In the past we had given them 75/24 Howitzers, Pattabhiraman declared adding that though the numbers were not "much" they were neither "symbolic".

Last month Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt finalised negotiations in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) to supply it varied military hardware in return for the military junta's cooperation in flushing out separatist groups like United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) that have long used Myanmar's dense jungles as a sanctuary.

In exchange for an unspecified number of T-55 tanks - which the Indian army is retiring - armoured personal carriers, 105-mm light artillery guns, mortars and the locally designed advanced light helicopters, Delhi also wants to conduct joint military operations against north-eastern militant groups along the 1,643-km-long Myanmar frontier.

In anticipation of the army's anti-insurgency offensive in the region expected later this month, the security forces have stepped up vigil along its borders with Bangladesh and Bhutan to "tie-in" the insurgents.

Dutt's visit, however, was kept under wraps because of Western sensitivity to engaging with Myanmar's military regime.

The defence ministry refused to comment on the moves.

On September 15 the UN Security Council led by the US and Britain added Myanmar to its list of countries considered a threat to international peace and security.

The US is also pushing for a strong resolution on the ongoing human rights abuses in Myanmar and the continued incarceration by the military junta of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

India dumped Suu Kyi's cause and launched an aggressive diplomatic and military thrust into Myanmar in the late 1990s, backed by a developmental and commercial drive to try and neutralise ongoing Chinese programmes like the modernisation of Myanmarese naval bases at Hainggyi, Munaung, Akyab, Zadaikyi and Mergui by building radar, refit and refuel facilities.

The Indian Navy fears this could support Chinese submarine operations in the region as part of Beijing's "string of pearls" strategy of clinching regional defence and security agreements to secure its mounting fuel requirements and enhance its military profile in the Indian Ocean region.

The Chinese are also believed to have established a Signals Intelligence facility on Myanmar's Coco islands, 30-km from the Andaman Islands territory on India's east coast to monitor Indian missile tests, an activity that has proliferated in recent years and is poised to grow.

India is also concerned about China's nuclear-armed close ally Pakistan's long standing military ties with Myanmar to whom it had supplied several shiploads of ordnance and other military hardware like 106 mm M-40 recoilless rifles and various small arms over the past decade.

Pakistan also regularly trains Burmese soldiers to operate a range of Chinese equipment like T-63 and T-53 tanks, Soviet fighter aircraft and 155-mm Howitzers and to instruct its air force and naval officers at many of its institutions.

Consequently, Indian Army chief Gen JJ Singh made a three-day trip to Yangon last November following an earlier visit by the country's since retired air chief to finalise a comprehensive upgrade programme for Myanmar's vintage Soviet-era fighter fleet.

Several Myanmarese military leaders too frequently visit Delhi to further defence cooperation.

Political leaders and diplomats also make reciprocal trips to each other's country to cement bilateral ties.

First Published: Oct 04, 2006 16:46 IST