Foreign secretary, Army chief to visit Myanmar today amid India-China standoff

photo of Army Chief M.M. Naravane (left) and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla
File photo of Army Chief M.M. Naravane (left) and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla

New Delhi: Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla and Indian Army Chief M.M. Naravane will visit Myanmar on 4-5 October. The two-day visit comes amid ongoing border tensions between India and China in Ladakh.

Shringla had held a virtual meeting with Myanmar Permanent Secretary U Soe Han last week, even as China tries to increase influence over India’s neighbourhood, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

Foreign Secretary Shringla and Army Chief Naravane will meet State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Sources also said that the focus of this impending visit will be on the border area development. An MoU on India-Myanmar Border Area Development was signed in 2012, according to which New Delhi will provide $5 million each year over a period of five years to Nay Pyi Taw. This MoU was later extended till 2022.

India has already completed 140 projects under the pact, including building roads and bridges, healthcare centres, schools and other infrastructure in the Chin State and the Naga Self-Administered Zone.

“These projects, undertaken in the Chin State and Naga Self-Administered Zone, have been known to deliver enormous benefits to the people and been empowering the local communities,” said an official requesting anonymity.

In August this year, the Ambassador of India to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar had handed over a cheque of $5 million to Lt-Gen Ye Aung, minister for border affairs, Myanmar, for the next phase of the projects.

Both nations will soon commence work on identifying work that is to be undertaken in the fifth cycle, said sources.

This will also be Army Chief Naravane’s first visit outside India since the Covid-19 outbreak. He has, however, served as India’s defence attache to Nay Pyi Taw in his earlier stint.

India is expected to raise the issue of the Ladakh border standoff with the Myanmar government.

‘Early return’ of Rohingya refugees to be taken up by India

During the visit, India is expected to raise the issue of an ‘early return’ of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, has learnt.

“India supports safe, sustainable, and speedy repatriation of displaced persons from Bangladesh to Rakhine State (home to the Rohingyas) based on the understanding between Bangladesh and Myanmar,” the official quoted above said.

The Rohingya issue was also discussed during the latest round of Joint Consultative Commission meeting between New Delhi and Dhaka last month. During that meeting Bangladesh Foreign Minister A. K. Abdul Momen had urged Jaishankar to discuss the Rohingya issue with Myanmar authorities as Dhaka continues to house millions of refugees.

At present, there are about 1 million Rohingya refugees — a primarily Muslim-minority community that Myanmar refuses to recognise as citizens — residing in Bangladesh since 2017.

India, on the other hand, is also involved in the development of the Rakhine State. An MoU on Rakhine State Development Program was signed between India and Myanmar in December 2017.

Under this programme, India extends assistance for socio-economic development of projects pertaining to health, education, agriculture, and allied activities in the Rakhine State through a grant-in-aid of $5 million annually.

India has also entered into a collaboration with Japan for the development of the region.