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Letters from India
India and Burma Push Joint Project
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Burmese monks peacefully protest human rights violations

Come April 4 and New Delhi will unfold the red carpet for the 'second man in command' of the Burmese junta, Maung Aye, who is supposed to arrive in India for finalizing many business deals, primarily the Kaladan project. The project includes the development of Sittwe port in the Bay of Bengal and then connects it with the landlocked Northeast India through the Kaladan river and road transport. The connected Indian state will be Mizoram, which is adjacent to Chin province of Burma (also known as Myanmar).

Vice Senior General Maung Aye, the deputy commander-in-chief of Defence Services, is expected to arrive in New Delhi for signing the much discussed Kaladan Multi-Model Project. It will be an important visit of a Burmese high profile leader to New Delhi after Senior General Than Shwe, the head of the State Peace and Development Council (as the present brand of Generals is known) paid a visit four years back. The project includes the up-gradation of the seaport in Sittwe, widening and deepening of the Kaladan river and development of a road to connect Aizwal.

"The Kaladan project will include shipping, riverine and road transport," said Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of State for Commerce. Talking to media persons during one of his recent visits to the Northeast, Mr Ramesh also added, "New Delhi wants to connect the Northeast with the commercial sea routes. Moreover, with the development of Sittwe port and the Kaladan river as a navigation efficient, the region is expected to have another viable access to the South East Asian counties."

India has decided to spend nearly $ 100 million for the project. The junta, though assured free land for the project, had shown reluctance to invest money in the project, which finally compels New Delhi to extend a soft loan of $ 10 million to the SPDC leaders. The Kaladan project is anticipated to be completed within four years and the project will be executed by the public sector Rail India Technical Economic Services organization.

But the signing of the deal will not be out of repercussion, as the international communities have been raising voices against the military junta for its continued repressive policies on the pro-democracy activists including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and of course its poor human rights record in Burma. The public memory remained fresh for the political observers worldwide, where thousands of agitating monks in the streets of Rangoon, the former capital of Burma, were subjected to torture during last September. The junta controlled the movement with strong hands killing nearly hundreds.

The Burmese exiles irrespective of their organizations have come out heavily against New Delhi for initiating for a business deal. The supporters of pro-democracy movement in Burma have raised a single point that India should not invest money at this moment in Burma as the money will not reach the common people, but the pockets of the Generals. They unanimously point out that it is not the suitable time to invest in Burma, even if one does not endorse the pro-democracy movement led by the Nobel laureate Suu Kyi.

"This is not a right time to build long-term relationship with the Burmese rulers," argued M. Kim, the coordinator of Shwe Gas Pipeline Campaign Committee (India). Talking to this correspondent, Kim added, "India must not bury alive its extraordinary democratic values and inspiration of promotion of peace and human rights by dealing business and building relation with this barbaric Burmese military junta which recently not only kill, torture and imprison its own innocent people and monks but also violated religious rights by sealing off monasteries and restricting basic rights of prayers at pagodas."

Regarding the Kaladan project he revealed that the practice of forced labour is still rampant in Arakan state of western Burma. Some villagers have been forced to do such things as digging and damming up fishery and prawn ponds for the interest of the authorities. The only thing they receive anything from the authorities is mistreatment.

"It is inevitable that if the project (Kaladan) is carried out under the present regime, gross human rights violations will follow. No developmental project will be done without committing human rights abuses, so India must hold off on the Kaladan Project until the military dictatorship is replaced by a democratic regime, and local communities have a say in how their natural resources are used," Kim emphasized.

Even a public meeting at Aizwal during January resolved to appeal New Delhi to snap all ties with the military junta as 'the economic cooperation with them would never benefit the people unless democracy was restored in Burma.' Organized jointly by the Mizoram Committee for Democracy in Burma and the Campaign for Democratic Movement in Burma, the meeting also resolved that New Delhi should work with the UN to find amicable solution to the Burmese imbroglio. Dr Tint Swe, a leader of National League for Democracy led by Suu Kyi, who is living in exile in India, was also present at the meeting and argued that dealing with Burma 'would only have a meaning after restoration of democracy' there.

Tayza Thuria, a Burmese exile based in London debates that 'India's doing business with Burma and engaging with Burma's de-facto military government is not wrong in itself.' But the Indian government needs to be careful to maintain a balanced and ethical approach towards Burma; i.e., while engaging with Burmese government in business and security affairs, New Delhi must also try to persuade, advice and guide the junta to make the systematic democratic reforms in due course of time.

Kyaw Than, the leader of All Burma Students' League (ABSL), a conglomeration of Burmese students' organizations in exile, asserted that it is not the suitable time to do business with Burma. He rather claimed, "It is high time for the international communities, more precisely India and China, to come clean on Burma policies. Otherwise, they will be criticized in future that both New Delhi and Beijing had continued business for good reasons but sadly with wrong people."

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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at






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