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Kalam reaches Myanmar on a three-day visit

This is the highest level official visit from India since the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited the country in 1987.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 19:16 IST

Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam and a 40-member entourage arrived in Myanmar amid tight security on Wednesday for a three-day visit.

It is the highest-level official visit from India since the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came here in 1987.

Indian Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat visited Yangon in 2003, while the chief of Myanmar's junta, Senior General Than Shwe, toured India in 2004.

Topping Kalam's agenda is a deal to bring natural gas from Myanmar to India, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told reporters in New Delhi ahead of the visit.

Myanmar and India's once-close ties frayed after the military took power in 1988 by violently suppressing pro-democracy demonstrations.

Relations have warmed in the past few years, as India looks to forge closer economic and political ties with its Southeast Asian neighbours.

Analysts have said India's attempts to cozy up to Myanmar, despite its lack of democratic reforms, is to balance the growing influence of their mutual neighbour, China.

China, which borders Myanmar to the north, is frequently regarded as a rival by India, but Saran denied the visit was aimed at countering Chinese influence.

Saran said India attached great importance to its ties with Myanmar, which it regards as a "gateway" to Southeast Asia.

"For various reasons it is important for India and Myanmar to remain engaged," Saran said, adding that India still cares about democracy in Myanmar despite New Delhi's ties to the military government.

He said that India supported the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The pro-democracy leader has spent 10 of the last 16 years in detention and is now under house arrest.

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 18:20 IST