Than Shwe agreed to shed uniform for Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi

The Times of India/

NEW DELHI – Amid intense international scrutiny, Burma’s military ruler and chairman of ruling State Peace and Development Council Senior General Than Shwe, who has doggedly clung on to power and refused to shed his uniform all these years, is willing to make a rare exception during his five-day visit to India that begins on Sunday.

Striking a positive note, as well as sparing Indian authorities a last-minute hiccup, the military strongman has agreed to visit Rajghat on Monday in civvies.

Earlier, authorities had officially requested Than Shwe, who has rarely been seen without uniform, to shed his military attire for the visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi. The Senior General will begin his visit from Gaya in Bihar, where he will land on Sunday, and reach the capital on Monday evening.

The visit has already elicited protests from human rights groups and Burmese nationals in India, who are opposing the government’s decision to host the military junta ruler, known for his scant regard to democracy and dissent.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. Thane Shew has been described by the “Foreign Policy” magazine as the world’s third-worst dictator, who has been holding the reins of power for the past 18 years.

Government sources, however, said his visit should be seen in the context of the fact that Burma is at least showing signs of ushering in a democratic process — even though under the garb of the military rule — and also India’s own strategic interests in the region, considering the growing Chinese influence in the country. Burma also has huge oil and gas reserves, which are being eyed by many Asian countries.

By the end of this year, Burma is expected to hold elections for the first time since 1990. Several of the top military rulers, however, have done away with their uniforms, at the behest of Than Shwe, to take part in the electoral process, which has given rise to fears that the military will not let go of power that easily.

Than Shwe rarely travels abroad and his visit is also being seen in the light of the recent differences between Burma and China over the issue of armed ethnic groups in the northern part of Burma. “China may have supported some of these groups to keep them under its control, and this has irked the military,” said a government official.

General Myanmar junta plays religion, not business, trump card as he tries to win over Indian hearts. Shwe named the “world’s third-worst dictator” behind North Korea’s Kim Jong Il and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe by the Foreign Policy magazine to start his Indian sojourn from Bodh Gaya and seek India’s assistance to help to restore a famous Buddhist pagoda, Ananda Temple, in Burma. Burma wants the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to restore the over 900-year-old structure. The temple whose architecture is similar to temples in Bengal and Orissa is located in the Bagan region.

Sources said that India is hoping to expand engagement at all levels, but mainly economic, with Burma during talks with the Senior General. He is scheduled to hold meetings with the President, Prime Minister, vice president, foreign minister and the leader of the opposition during his stay. PM Manmohan Singh is expected to tell Than Shwe that any process of national reconciliation and political reform should include each one of the close to 20 ethnic groups in the country.

Apart from security and border issues, India is looking forward to cooperation in cross-border developmental projects, oil and gas, power, railways, telecommunications, education and training.

On business list to deliberate with Ratan Tata possibly to set up a vehicle plant. Burma produces only Jeeps and there is a huge demand of four-wheeler trucks and cars. He is likely to visit to ICT cos, infotech and pharmaceutical companies in Hyderabad. During foreign secretary Nirupama Rao’s visit to Burma this year, the two sides stressed the need for greater vigilance at the border, and also agreed to enhance security cooperation to combat insurgent groups and arms smuggling.

Mae Sot-Myawaddy border closure tiff likely to ease with Thai-Myanmar talks

TAK, July 26 – Thai Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot and his team earlier on Monday crossed the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Tak province to meet Myanmar officials and to discuss the ongoing Mae Sot-Myawaddy border closure.

Mr Alongkorn and relevant Thai officials met with high-ranking officials from the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw, Aung Thein, the Myanmar ambassador to Thailand and Military Attache to Thailand Col Win Maung at the Myawaddy border trade office

As head of the Thai government representatives, Mr Alongkorn discussed the continued closure of the bridge and 19 trading ports along the Moei River for the past two weeks– since July 12– which brought cross-border trade and transport to a standstill.

The deputy commerce minister had earlier met in talks in Mae Sot with government officials, civil servants and entrepreneurs and company representatives to review details of the river bank protection construction on the Thai side which apparently led to the border closure.

The Myanmar action is believed to be a protest against the construction project as it diverted some river currents which the Myanmar officials believed might erode their side of the river.

During the discussion across the Moei River, Mr Alongkorn explained to the Myanmar officials that the Thai government has suspended the public works project after the Myanmar authorities submitted letters opposing the project.

Meanwhile, U Aung Thein said his country’s concerned agencies have raised the matter as a problem to the Thai authorities at least five times, adding that the border shutdown was intended to bring about a discussion.

U Aung Thein said today’s talk with the Thai government representatives and the local authorities is likely to be beneficial.
However, there is as yet no conclusion as to whether the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border will reopen, U Aung Thein said. Representatives of both countries must discuss with their governments whether an initial agreement and request to issue from Monday’s talks is acceptable or not.

Meanwhile, both governments will raise their concerns and tentative conclusions for agreement to be carried out at the Thailand-Myanmar Township Border Committee (TBC) meeting, scheduled to be held in Tak, the provincial seat of the Thai province, on July 30, according to Deputy Minister Alongkorn. (MCOT online news)