In a crucial outreach, Army Chief, Foreign Secretary to visit Myanmar

Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane. File   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Manoj Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will visit Myanmar during October 4-5, the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Saturday. The visit is being viewed as a crucial outreach to Myanmar after months of pandemic when direct interactions were limited.

Gen. Naravane and Mr. Shringla are scheduled to interact with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung-Hlaing, a press release from the Ministry of External Affairs said. “The visit will provide an opportunity to take stock of the existing bilateral ties and strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest,” said the press release.

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Starting with the January 2000 Myanmar visit of the then Army Chief Gen. V.P. Malik, the military ties have come a long way. In July 2017, a military agreement was sealed during a rare official visit by General Min Aung-Hlaing. Apart from counter-insurgency operations in India’s northeast, the agreement also provided for training of Myanmar’s armed personnel in the defence training establishments.

The upcoming visit is important for multiple reasons but especially because of the recent reported mobilisation of Myanmar’s military forces near the border with Chittagong. The Hindu reported earlier that Dhaka summoned the Ambassador of Myanmar in response and lodged a protest. Deployment of additional troops in the border areas of the Rakhine province of Myanmar has raised the possibility of more exodus of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar which began in August-September 2017. Bangladesh has been urging India to play a more active role to facilitate the return of the Rohingya refugees from the camps in Chittagong to Rakhine.

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During the September 29 Joint Consultative Commission meeting with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A.K. Abdul Momen requested India to raise the Rohingya issue at the Security Council to increase diplomatic pressure on Myanmar. However, it is not clear whether Mr. Shringla will raise the concerns of Bangladesh with Myanmar. It is understood that the officials will review the Rakhine State Development Programme under which India has extended infrastructure building and humanitarian support to Myanmar for “early stabilisation of the situation in the Rakhine State”.

In the first phase of the initiative, India built 250 modern pre-fabricated houses and supplied 20,000 humanitarian kits of rice, noodles and other items to the Internally Displaced People (IDPs/Rohingya) of Myanmar. Under the second phase, 12 projects including solar power infrastructure, agricultural mechanisation and road construction are being undertaken in Rakhine State. India has proposed the establishment of a skills training centre in Rakhine. “All these efforts are aimed at ensuring an early return of displaced persons there,” said a source requesting anonymity.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 9:06:51 PM |

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