Upgrading ties significantly with Myanmar,which is opening up rapidly after 50 years of military rule and isolation,India today extended a $500-million line of credit and inked 12 pacts.
These include an air services agreement providing for 5th freedom rights which will allow Indian carriers,private included,to combine flights to Myanmar with other destinations in South East Asia and beyond.
A joint working group will examine the feasibility of rail connectivity between the two countries and movement of freight from India to the ASEAN region. The Imphal-Mandalay bus service has also been shown the green light,though the absence of an all-weather road in Myanmar is likely to delay its start. Among the MoUs signed is one for a border haat at the Pangsau Pass in Arunachal Pradesh that will function on the lines of haats that exist on the Bangladesh border.
Both sides agreed to enhance banking arrangements for promotion of trade. Indian banks will be allowed to open representative branches in Myanmar and the RBI and Central Bank of Myanmar will sign an MoU for currency arrangements.
These slew of measures,intended to fill gaps in connectivity and physical infrastructural linkages with a country that is Indias only bridge to the ASEAN,were announced after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Thein Sein at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw. The two leaders held a restricted meeting and this was followed by delegation-level talks.
Later in the day,a delegation of 15 Indian CEOs met the President. The business team is here to explore investment opportunities,especially in the energy sector,given Myanmars proven reserves of oil and natural gas. Oil explorer Jubilant Energy has been awarded an onshore block in the Central Burma basin and the site is located 125 km north of Yangon.
A joint statement underlined that the Prime Minister congratulated President Sein on his governments path-breaking reform measures… towards greater democratisation and national reconciliation and negotiation of preliminary peace agreements with several ethnic groups as well as dialogue with various democratic parties,including the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
The PM will fly to Yangon tomorrow morning where his engagements include a meeting with Suu Kyi at the Sedona hotel.
At his meeting with Sein,Singh said India was ready to assist in accelerating Myanmars transition to democracy and developing the capacity of institutions such as the parliament,national human rights commission and the media.
Details of a discussion on security and counter-terrorism measures were not made public. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said both sides were taking steps in that direction and had linked the subject of security to the development of border areas. For long,Myanmar was the refuge of North-East insurgent groups.
India said it was ready to extend financial assistance of $5 million per year for five years on small development projects such as schools,health centres and dispensaries,small roads and bridges,agriculture and agro-processing centres in the Naga Self Administered Zone in the Sagaing Division bordering Manipur and the Chin State bordering Mizoram. The assistance package included supply of Bailey bridges in the border areas.
The MoU for operationalisation of the $500-million line of credit was signed between the EXIM Bank of India and the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank. Mathai said Myanmar officials identified areas such as agriculture and irrigation,railways and power that would be covered under the line of credit. Among the pacts signed was one on academic cooperation between Dagon University in Myanmar and Calcutta University on the exchange of faculty members,students and administrative managers and research material.
Much of the focus during the talks between the two sides was on improving physical linkages. Myanmar sought Indian assistance in construction and upgradation of 120 km of the Kalewa-Yargi road segment as part of the Trilateral Highway,key to the proposed Asian Highway network. Myanmar will take up construction of the Yargi-Monywa stretch and completion of the road is likely to take three years. Only then can the proposed Imphal-Mandalay bus service be operational throughout the year the road is unusable during the monsoon months.
Indian officials said they were more than satisfied with the outcome of the meetings in Myanmar. The visit of the PM,they said,would enable them to build on existing ties and leverage this to secure a stronger relationship with a country integral to Indias Look East policy.