Bilateral talks equal priority for India in Myanmar

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By Arvind Padmanabhan
Nay Pyi Taw, March 3 (IANS)
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hopes to hold “substantive” bilateral talks with the leadership of Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and hosts Myanmar on the margins of the seven-nation BIMSTEC Summit in this capital city where he landed Monday afternoon on a two-day visit.

Accompanying officials said the prime minister will meet his newly-elected Nepalase counterpart Sushil Koirala and Myanmar President U. Thein Sein Monday and other leaders Tuesday, with a fair share of issues lined up for discussion.

Nepal last month elected a new government, with Koirala as prime minister. Sheikh Hasina was sworn in recently as the Bangladesh premier in an election boycotted by the opposition but backed by India.

With regard to Sri Lanka — whose President Mahinda Rajapaksa is attending the BIMSTEC Summit — there is the issue of how India will vote on the US resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on alleged war crimes committed in the war against the Tamil Tigers.

“India will have no role in watering down any resolution. Our active role will only be pursuing our own interests,” a top official said.

With Myanmar, India has concerns over sanctuary provided to insurgents from the northeast even as it seeks to push road connectivity with the only neighbour that is a member of the larger ASEAN grouping.

Speaking about the prime minister’s engagements here, officials said the overall desire was for a safe and friendly neighbourhood that would benefit all citizens, irrespective of who is in power.

“Our relations with our neighbours are deep rooted. They don’t switch on or off with political developments,” said the top government source privy to India’s diplomacy issues.

“These are not election-driven relations.”

Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet Koirala and Sein Monday, and Rajapakse and Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi a day later.

Besides these countries, Thailand and Bhutan are also members of the BIMSTEC, or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.

Officials said relations with Bangladesh were extremely cordial for some years now. “We don’t see today any diminishing relations with Bangladesh.”

Manmohan Singh is also due to meet Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobga Tuesday.

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