PM arrives in Myanmar, focus on energy

Nay Pyi Taw: Seeking stronger ties with resource-rich Myanmar, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here today on a historic visit during which the two sides will chart out a roadmap and take initiatives to bolster relations in several areas, including energy, trade and connectivity.

Singh, who is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the country in 25 years, will hold talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein as well as opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi during the three-day trip. India has been associated with Myanmar during the junta rule despite international criticism. The Prime Minister`s trip came following recent reforms in the country, which has now turned to democracy.

India sees Myanmar as a strategic asset for a closer connection with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc as well as a key partner in counter-insurgency and economic development initiatives in its northeast border areas. An energy-hungry India is also eying Myanmar`s large oil and natural gas reserves and is looking at countering China`s influence in the Southeast Asian country.

During the junta rule, China and India were the main countries that Myanmar interacted with. Though India has a good presence in Myanmar in terms of various projects, China has been very pushy in energy as well as infrastructure besides others. In a pre-departure statement, Singh said that his visit "will provide an opportunity to review the progress in implementation of decisions" taken during the "highly successful visit" of Myanmar President to India in October last year.

"We will also consider new initiatives and define a roadmap for the further development of our cooperation in the years ahead," said Singh. The last Prime Minister to visit the country was Rajiv Gandhi`s in December 1987. India will be looking to enhancing its presence in the resource-rich energy sector of Myanmar, especially oil and gas, and to improve the road connectivity with its strategic eastern neighbour.

The two countries are expected to sign an agreement for starting a bus service between Imphal and Mandalay, the second largest city of Myanmar, which is expected to give a major boost to India`s neighbourhood diplomacy following similar bus links between New Delhi and Lahore and Kolkata and Dhaka.

The Prime Minister, who will hold talks with Sein tomorrow at Nay Pyi Taw, said that during his visit to Myanmar, he hopes to focus on "stronger trade and investment links, development of border areas, improving connectivity between our two countries and building capacity and human resources".

"We also hope to sign a number of agreements and MoUs to further strengthen our bilateral cooperation in these areas, besides promoting people-to-people contacts," Singh said. Singh, who will also meet Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi in Yangon on Tuesday, said India welcomes Myanmar`s "transition to democratic governance and the steps taken by the government of Myanmar towards a more broad-based and inclusive reconciliation process" and offered to share "democratic experiences" with that country.