India works on Myanmar plan

Despite the pressure from the US to tighten screws on the ruling military junta in Myanmar, India has gone ahead and started work on the crucial Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, which seeks to augment trade ties between the two countries. The project—named after the Kaladan river and will enhance connectivity between India's east coast and northeastern states—comprises construction of a port in Myanmarese town Sittwe, another waterway terminal and a highway. Expected to cost over Rs 500 crore, the project linking Sittwe with Mizoram is being funded fully by the ministry of external affairs, and is likely to be completed by 2013. The two neighbours envisaged the project more than 12 years ago, but work kept getting delayed as relations between the two countries worsened steadily in the past decade. Work has commenced more than two years after a final agreement for the project was signed with Myanmar's military regime. With the government now displaying a renewed commitment to reach out to the military junta —not least because of the growing Chinese influence in the region -- sources said the emphasis is going to be on completing the project at the earliest. Once completed, India will use the Sittwe port to transport goods from its port in Kolkata to the northeastern states. When Senior General Than Shwe visited India in July, the two sides had reiterated their commitment to the project. Than Shwe and PM Manmohan Singh had welcomed the expansion of trade and commerce between the two countries “manifest in the increase in the volume of trade to over $1 billion per year”. They had said it was important to enhance trade at border trade points to boost bilateral trade. It's a win-win situation for India because of the benefits this initiative is likely to yield to northeast states. While US President Barack Obama came down hard on India during his November visit for not speaking out against the military junta, New Delhi made it clear almost immediately that it is not going to change its Myanmar policy because of strategic and security reasons, keeping in mind not just the Chinese influence but also the insurgency. Officials believe that India has already lost out to China in tapping Myanmar’s rich energy reserves. Foreign ministry officials have conveyed to the US that for India any attempt to push Myanmar into a corner would only be counter-productive.

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