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Modi to discuss Rakhine violence on Myanmar visit

Modi to discuss Rakhine violence on Myanmar visit
Rohingya refugees reaching for food near Balukhali in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. During his visit

Modi to discuss Rakhine violence on Myanmar visit

NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss rising violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state during a visit to the neighbouring country, and push for greater progress on long-running Indian infrastructure projects, officials said.

India is seeking to boost economic ties with resource-rich Myanmar, with which it shares a 1,600km border, to counter Chinese influence and step up connectivity with a country it considers its gateway to South-east Asia.

Two-way trade grew to around US$2.2billion (S$2.99billion) as India courted Myanmar following the gradual end of military rule, but Indian-funded projects have moved slowly.

Mr Modi, who arrived in Myanmar after attending a summit in China yesterday, has promised to “act East” and cement ties with India’s eastern neighbour even as China has strengthened its influence there. His first bilateral visit comes amid a spike in violence in Rakhine, after a military counter-offensive against insurgents killed at least 400 people and triggered an exodus to Bangladesh since Aug 25.

Nearly 125,000 refugees, mostly Rohingya Muslims, have entered Bangladesh since an upsurge in the violence, the United Nations said yesterday. Some 37,000 have arrived in the last 24 hours — the most in a single day since the unrest began.

Two Rohingya children — one of whom lost a leg — were injured by an apparent landmine blast as they tried to flee unrest in Myanmar yesterday, a Bangladesh border official said. The incident came after a Rohingya woman had a leg blown off in the same area on Monday, raising fears that the border area had been deliberately mined.

The violence in Rakhine could hit development of a transport corridor that begins in Rakhine, with the Indian-built port of Sittwe and includes road links to India’s remote north-east, analysts said.

“It’s going to be a very vexed and complex issue,” said Mr Tridivesh Singh Maini, a New Delhi-based expert on ties with Myanmar.

“You need to play it very smartly. You need to make it clear that Rakhine violence has regional implications ... but India will not get into saying, ‘This is how you should resolve it.’”

Last month, India said it wanted to deport 40,000 Rohingya refugees who left Myanmar in previous years.

New Delhi believes the best way to reduce tension in Rakhine is through development efforts, like the Kaladan transport project there. Indian foreign ministry official Sripriya Ranganathan said: “We are very confident that once that complete corridor is functional, there will be a positive impact on the situation in the state.”

During his three-day visit, the Indian leader is expected to meet Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw in Naypyidaw. Mr Modi will meet Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and visit the heritage city of Bagan and a Hindu temple.

The countries share close cultural ties, and several in Myanmar trace their roots to India. He is also expected to talk up a trilateral highway project connecting India’s north-east with Myanmar and Thailand.

There is a fear that China is already going full steam ahead,” said Mr Udai Bhanu Singh of Delhi think-tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. “From the Indian side, there has been some laxity.”

Mr Singh said India could offer Myanmar help to build its navy and coast guard, while Myanmar would seek assurances that India was a reliable economic partner and an alternative power to Beijing. AGENCIES