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/* Posted 17 May 11:00am 1998 by drunoo@xxxxxxxxxxxx in igc:reg.burma */
/* ----------------" FEER: 3/2/94 & 3/3/94 "-------------------- */


MUTUAL BENEFITS: A new pragmatism drives India's Burma policy

by Hamish McDonald in New Delhi

When Wynn Lwin went to the presidential palace here in february 1992 to
present his credentials as Burma's ambassador to India, he received a
diplomatic slap in the face. Instead of platitudes about Indo-Burmese
relations, the then Indian President R. Ven kataraman told Lwin that
Rangoon's military regime should immediately release detained democracy
leader Aung San Suu Kyi and hand over power to her party, which had won
Burma's 1990 elections. 

For good measure, Venkataraman's homily was posted on the gates of the
Indian Embassy in Rangoon. For the first months of his posting, Lwin had
to endure the cold shoulder as India supported moves to isolate the
Burmese junta -- vetoing its move to join t he Non-Aligned Movement at the
Jakarta summit in August 1992 -- and the Indian press ran story after
story that painted Burma as a Chinese satellite-in-formation. 

But things are looking up for Ambassador Lwin. At the end of January, New
Delhi hosted a visit by Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Nyunt Swe, the
highest level contact since the 1988 Burmese uprising, and signed
agreements that seem to firmly put an end to hopes among Burmese
dissidents that India might be a springboard for pro-democracy groups. 

During his six-day visit from January 20, Nyunt Swe signed an agreement
with Commerce Minister Pranab Mukherjee that will regularise and promote
the informal trade across the land border into India's northeastern
states, using custons posts at the Moreh-T amu road on the border with
Manipur state, and the Champai-Hri corssingo on the Mizoram side. 

However the most significant agreement was an understanding signed the
same day between Ambassador Lwin and the secretary of India's Ministry of
Home Affairs, N.N. Vohra. This provides for cooperation between civilian
authorities to crack down on "illega l and negative cross border
activities" through regular meetings and intelligence exchanges.
Diplomatic analysts anticipate that this could eventually pave the way for
corss-border pursuit of rebels and criminals by the forces of the two
countries in the future. 

The traffic in Burmese herion through India's northeast is one target.
Insurgent groups are another. The Indians want to deny rebels from Assam,
Nagaland and Manipur their sancturies on the Burmese side of the 1,643
kilometer border. The Burmese likewise want the Indians to keep a tight
leash on the several hundred Burmese students and civilian politicians who
took refuge in India after 1989. 

All the insurgencies in northeast India have an ethnic basis. Some of the
rebel movements -- the United Liberation Front of Assam, the People's
Liberation Army of Manipur and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland
-- want to set up independent states.  Others want autonomous homelands
curved out of states that are already tiny by Indian standards. The
movements thrive on a high degree of alienation among educated youth, many
of whom otherwise turn to the heroin readily available on the Burmese
border.  Attempts to co-opt ethnic nationalists by bringing them into
state politics have had patchy success: the state governments are
notorious for squandering the generous funds allocated by New Delhi to try
to buy peace. 

The switch in India's position seems to have started in late 1992, after a
visit to New Delhi in August that year by a senior official of Burma's
Foreign Ministry, U Aye. Then, in March 1993, Indian Foreign Secretary
J.N. Dixit made an unheralded three-da y visit to Rangoon, where he talked
to intelligence chief Lieut.Gen.Khin Nyunt and other leaders of the
Burmese junta. After the visit, Dixit announced bilateral cooperation on
trade and border operations, which confirmed New Delhi's sharp policy

Impelling the Indians is a sense that New Delhi's previous stance was
keeping it out of what should be a natural market, while the Chinese and
Southeast Asians rushed in. Burma developed as part of British India in
colonial times, and even after an exodus following Gen. Ne Win's take over
in 1962 there remain about 420,000 people of Indian origin in Burma. But
in fiscal 1992-93 (April-March), India sold only about US$7 million in
goods to Burma --mostly bicycles and spare parts -- and took about US$110
mi llion in timber. 

New Delhi also wants to counterbalance China's influence in Burma,
although intelligence officials here think reports from Beijing of a
Chinese strategic thrust into the Indian Ocean through Burma are greatly
exaggerated. The naval facilities being built by the Chinese at Hainggyi
and other places cater only for LBurma's small coastal ships, sources
said, and no signs have been detected of the electronic monitoring station
China was said to be building on Burma's Great Coco Island, just north of
India's A ndaman Islands. 

The security situaiton in India's north east has also worsened in the past
year, increasing the perceived need for greater cooperation from the
Burmese army. The Indian army has been fighting an intermittent
counter-insurgency war in tal and oil rich Assa m state. ON December 31,
New Dalhi dismissed the elected go ernment in Manipur and imposed central
rule. Over the past year, about 800 people have died in the state in
fighting between separatists and security forces and in ethnic clashes
between the Naga and Kuki groups.

The new policy fits in with the pragmatic approach of Prime Minister P.V.
Narashima Rao and Foreign Secretary Dixit, which has seen India set asidce
long standing misgivings and promote trade contacts with countries like
China and Iran. As with China, bor der tranquility is an objective in
itself to lessen the costly security burden on government finances. IN
Burma's case, New Delhi says it still supports the "democratic
aspirations" of the Burmese people, but scrupulously adheres to the
principle of non-i nterference in the internal affairs of other countries. 

In practice, this means that it is the anti-junta Burmese exiles who are
now feeling the cold in India. The Burmese-language boradcasts of the
state-run All-India Radio have been censored of political commentary on
Burma. Burmese students say there is a " subtle pressure" to get them to
move back from New Delhi to the eastern states where they can be silenced,
and, they fear, quietly handed back to Rangoon.


PARIAH NO MORE: Asean edges towards closer ties with Rangoon

By MIchael Vatikiotis in Kuala LUmpur and Bertil Lintner in Bangkok

Time, it appears, really does heal all wounds -- particularly when there
is money to be made. Burma's military government has been an international
pariah since it refused to acknowledge the result of parliamentary
elections in 1990, but as a recent flurr y of contacts between Rangoon and
Asean governments demonstrates, not everyone is waiting for Burma's
military rulers to change their political spots before normalising ties. 

One reason for Asean's eagerness is a desire to bring Burma into regional
discussions on security and, in the longer term, into the ASean fold.  But
it is also clear that entrepreneurs in Asean countries, who are already
exploring business opportunities i n this as yet commercially
under-exploited country of 46 million, are encouraging their governments
to deal with Rangoon. 

Stacked against this pragmatic approach to Burma is that of Asean's
Western dialogue partners, who are reluctant to have any kind of contact
with the Rangoon regime. They would have Asean wait until the junta offers
concrete proof of a move towards democr atisation and improves its human
rights record before further expanding ties. Burmese opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi's recent meeting with a United States congressman was
seen as encouraging in the region, but Asean officials still feel that it
wasn't enough to merit an invitation to the forthcoming round of Asean
meetings this year. 

Even so, in the run-up to this year's inaugural Asean Regional Forum, a
gathering of regional officials to discuss security matters scheduled to
be held in Bangkok in May, diplomaitc efforts are being stepped up around
the region to facilitate Rangoon's p resence. "Everyone in Asean is trying
to find a formula to deal with Burma so that they can be brought to
Bangkok in May", said a senior Asean diplomat in Kuala Lumpur. 

Thailand is also keen to invite Burma to the annual Asean Ministerial
Meeting that will also be held in Bangkok in JUly. Asean officials say
that although the idea of inviting Burma was floated at a senior official
meeting in January, there remains concer n about the possible
repercussions. "We're looking for sings that Burma is beginning to
accommodate some of the concerns of not only Asean, but also of our
dialogue partners," said one Asean official. 

Having said that, relations between Rangoon and Asean have steadily
improved since the U.S. and other Western countries first applied pressure
on Asean to likn ties with progress towards democracy in 1990. IN
mid-1992, the then Foreign Secretary of the Ph ilippines, Raul Manglapus,
made efforts to represent Asean on a visit to RAngoon, but was rebuffed by
the Burmese. An attempt by Asean foreign ministers to meet their Burmese
counterpart at the United Nations General Assembly later the same year was
also limited to bilateral exchanges. 

Now, in what some observers see as a renewed high-level diplomaitc effort
to draw Burma closer to Asean, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas
arrived in RAngoon on February 21 for his first official visit. An
Indinesian official said the trip was a resp onse to encouraging signals
from Rangoon. 

Outwardly, Malaysia appears to have taken the hardest line among Asean
members towards the Rangoon junta. AKUala LUmpur took strong exception to
Rangoon's expulsion of some 300,000 Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic minority
group, in 1992. But at the seme time, Malaysian businesses have been quick
to exploit opportunities in Burma, focusing on tourist development and the
exploitation of primary resources. 

Torn between satisfying a domestic Muslim constituency which wants to see
Rangoon improve relations with minorities in Burma and lucrative
investment opportunities, the Malaysian Government has allowed contacts
with the junta in Rangoon to develop, albeit informally. A Malaysian
Foreign ministry official said that the government saw "a lot of
improvement" in Burma and was "encouraged by the situation". 

Indonesia, meanwhile, has developed a new-found interest in Burma.
Indonesian officials attribute this to the visit to Jakarta last December
by intelligence chief Khin Nynt when he flattered his hosts by suggesting
Burma would like to emulate Indonesia's dual military and civilian
political framework. 

A senior Indonesian military source said that Jakarta was keen to end
Burma isolation in the region. "I worry about close relationship between
Burma and China", the official said, pointing to reports that the Chinese
military had helped establish a naval base in the Irrawaddy delta. 

Thailand equally anxious to end Burma's isolation. "We want to draw Burma
out", said a Thai diplomatic source. But Bangkok does not want to go out
on a limb without the backing of its Asean neighbours. 

In Singapore, diplomats say many local businessmen see more opportunities
for investment in Burma than in Cambodia, where elections have apparently
not convinced entrepreneurs of long-term political stability. "If the
businessmen are there, it means they have made a commercial decision that
the junta is not unstable, which means we have to deal with them,"
commented one Asean diplomat. 

/* Endreport */