Act East: India-Myanmar to deepen relations with President Kovind’s visit, discussion on Rohingya refugees also on cards

By: | Published: December 7, 2018 8:15 PM

As part of India’s 'Act East Policy' President Ram Nath Kovind will be heading to Myanmar to promote Indo-Pacific Strategy, agreements including one for prefabricated housing for Rohingya refugees will be inked next week.

India-Myanmar, Ram Nath Kovind, Ram Nath Kovind myanmar visit, Act East Policy, Rohingya, Rohingya refugees, economy newsPresident Ram Nath Kovind. (Reuters)

As part of India’s ‘Act East Policy’ President Ram Nath Kovind will be heading to Myanmar to promote Indo-Pacific Strategy, agreements including one for prefabricated housing for Rohingya refugees will be inked next week. In his maiden visit to the neighbouring country with India shares both land and maritime borders, will be accompanied by a three member ministerial delegation from Northeast including Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain, Lok Sabha MP from Assam Ram Prasad Sarma, and Rajya Sabha MP from Manipur K Bhabananda Singh.

Kovind will meet with both President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during the five-day visit starting December 11. Briefing the media persons ahead of the visit, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said Myanmar was a “close neighbour” and served India as a link to Southeast Asia.

According to the foreign secretary, India signed a development programme for Rakhine State in Myanmar late last year which was designed to assist the Myanmar government in Rakhine State to build housing infrastructure for return of displaced persons.

In the first phase, 250 units have been planned and through virtual means, the president will be handing over the first 50 units, he said. Responding to a question about the trilateral highway connecting India-Myanmar-Thailand, the foreign secretary said that a large part of it had been completed by the governments of the three nations. However, key bridges over some rivers and streams are under construction.

“It is likely to take time because we are operating in difficult conditions, both geographically and in terms of security in some cases, because of disturbances in parts of Myanmar,” Gokhale said. Over the last three political, economic and defence ties with Myanmar have been deepening with several high level visits from both sides. The armies and navies of the two countries also participate in bilateral military drills.

While India has been increasing its engagements with Southeast Asia under its Act East Policy, it is also the key development aid partner of Myanmar. New Delhi is working on some major infrastructure projects in that country including the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan multimodal transport project connecting Sittwe port with Mizoram.

In November New Delhi has extended its 2012 Border Region Development agreement with Myanmar, which commits it to spending $5 million each year on development projects along their shared 1,600 km border. Kovind and the First Lady will travel to Yangoon and lay a wreath at the Martyrs Mausoleum, where Gen Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi rests, on the same day. They will also visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. The president will also interact with the surviving veterans of the Indian National Army (INA).

On December 13, the president will visit the Shri Kali Temple and also the ‘mazhar’ (shrine) of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor who was exiled to Myanmar and died in Yangoon. Finally, he will visit the Dhamma Joti Vipassana Meditation Centre and inaugurate the ‘Enterprise India’ exhibitions in which 45 Indian companies are expected to participate.

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