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India seeks release of Suu Kyi

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INDIA CALLING: Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at home.
INDIA CALLING: Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at home.

Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI: For the first time in many years, India has joined the West in seeking release of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi but insisted that the tone of a resolution on Myanmar by a United Nations body should have been less minatory.

India in the past had sought release of Ms. Suu Kyi during private engagements with the authorities in Myanmar, but this is probably the first time since reversing its policy towards Myanmar in 1992 that it has publicly said Ms. Suu Kyi’s release would be “helpful” in furthering democratisation of Myanmar and that she can “contribute” to Myanmar’s emergence as a democratic country.

A rare official acknowledgment of the jailed leader since then came in 1994 when she was conferred the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for promoting international understanding. Last year, President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam had queried Myanmar’s top leader Than Shwe about her welfare but stopped short of seeking her release.

While going along with the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution on Myanmar which includes the demand for release of Ms. Suu Kyi, India has made it clear that its wording does not conform to the approach of seeking to engage the Myanmar authorities in a “constructive manner to facilitate a peaceful outcome”.

The resolution’s “unhelpful tone does not contribute to effectively pursuing the objective of engaging constructively with the authorities in Myanmar which is essential to make a difference to the situation on the ground,” said India’s Permanent Representative to the U.N., S. Singh, at the UNHRC’s special session in his explanation of vote (EOV). It is understood that Russia took an almost identical position on the issue.

While the rest of the world stays away from dealing with Myanmar, India and China have maintained a multi-dimensional engagement. India shares a 1,643-km-long border with Myanmar and all its four border states — Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh — are either facing insurgency or have the potential of becoming troublesome.

Insurgents in Nagaland and Manipur had bases in Myanmar till India put its demand for the release of Ms. Suu Kyi on the backburner and the two armies launched “Operation Golden Bird” in the mid-1990s to squeeze them out in a pincer movement. Since then cooperation between both sides has extended to diverse areas such as curbing drug trade and importing pulses that are in short supply in India. India is also seeking an alternative route through Myanmar to the North-East.

India’s basic difference with the European Union-quarterbacked UNHRC resolution is the tone used to solicit Myanmar’s shift to a more democratic structure. India used terms such as “hope”, “suggested” and “helpful” in seeking release of Ms. Suu Kyi and inclusion of all segments of society in the power structure.

On the other hand, the U.N. resolution “strongly deplored” the present unrest, used the term “urged” five times, and asked the authorities to “desist” from “further violence”.

Despite its views being not in consonance with such sentiments, India reiterated that it had joined the consensus with the hope that UNHRC’s further deliberations on the issue would be “undertaken in a more positive manner”.

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