Delhi sought Shringla meeting with Suu Kyi, junta gave cold shoulder

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India sought a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), while Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla was in the country, but the military leadership there did not respond, The Indian Express has learnt.

Shringla, who was on a working visit to Myanmar the last two days, met leaders of Suu Kyi’s party. It was India’s first high-level official outreach to Myanmar’s military regime since the coup in February this year.

Earlier this month, Suu Kyi was sentenced to a four-year jail term by a Myanmar court which held her guilty of inciting dissent in the first of a series of verdicts. Her sentence was later reduced to two years in jail. India had reacted sharply, underlining that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld, and any development there that “undermines these processes and accentuates differences is a matter of deep concern”.

Shringla, who returned to New Delhi Thursday, met Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the military regime and chairman of the State Administrative Council, and key junta members dealing with foreign relations. He also met the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and some civil society members. These apart, he met ambassadors, including those of the US, Australia and Japan, and UN representatives.

During his meetings, Shringla “emphasized India’s interest in seeing Myanmar’s return to democracy at the earliest; release of detainees and prisoners; resolution of issues through dialogue; and complete cessation of all violence,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

He reaffirmed India’s strong and consistent support to the ASEAN initiative and expressed the hope that progress would be made in a pragmatic and constructive manner, based on the five-point consensus, the MEA said in a statement.

As a democracy and close neighbour, the MEA said, “India has been involved in the democratic transition process in Myanmar and in this context has worked with various stakeholders in developing capacities on democratic systems and practices”. It said India proposes to renew these efforts for Myanmar to emerge as a stable, democratic, federal union in accordance with the wishes of its people.

Shringla also raised “matters related to India’s security” in the wake of the Churachandpur incident — Assam Rifles commandant Colonel Viplav Tripathi, his wife, son and four personnel were killed when their convoy was attacked by militants last month — and the need to put an end to any violence while ensuring peace and stability in the border areas.

In his conversations, the two sides reiterated their commitment to ensure that “their respective territories would not be allowed to be used for any activities inimical to the other”.

India shares a 1700-km border with Myanmar. “Any developments in that country have a direct impact on India’s bordering regions. Peace and stability in Myanmar remain of utmost importance to India, specifically to its North Eastern Region,” the MEA said.

The Foreign Secretary conveyed India’s continued humanitarian support for the people of Myanmar. In the context of Myanmar’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, he handed over 1 million doses of Made-in-India vaccines to the Myanmar Red Cross Society. A part of this consignment would be utilised for communities living along Myanmar’s border with India. A grant of 10,000 tonnes of rice and wheat to Myanmar was also announced.

New Delhi has steered clear of criticising the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, as it has been wary of Beijing’s growing influence and the high stakes involved to maintain peace and security along the India-Myanmar border. India’s statements so far have been based on pragmatism as turmoil has engulfed the neighbour.

New Delhi feels that instead of condemning the Myanmar military leadership, it should work with partner countries to lean on the military to work together to resolve their differences in a peaceful and constructive manner.

Delhi has engaged with Myanmar through civilian and military channels. In October 2020, Shringla and Army chief General M M Naravane visited Myanmar together, and met the entire leadership, including top military officers and Suu Kyi.

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