Myanmar generals visit arms maker in Russia

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MOSCOW, Oct 12 (Reuters) A Myanmar military delegation visited Russia today, a day after the Asian state's military junta was deplored by the United Nations for crushing pro-democracy protests.

Two leading Russian newspapers said the delegation was discussing buying missile systems from Russia, which has in the past sold fighter planes to Myanmar and has said it believes sanctions against the junta are premature.

A Russian Air Force spokesman said the delegation was headed by Lieutenant-General Myint Hlaing, commander of Myanmar's air defence forces. The spokesman declined to specify whether the visitors were buying arms.

Russia's Defence Ministry said on its Web site (www.mil.ru) the delegation would visit an air force academy and the Sokol design bureau in Kazan in the autonomous region of Tatarstan.

Sokol specialises in building drones -- remotely piloted planes -- according to the Russian military press.

The Kommersant and Vedomosti newspapers said the southeast Asian nation was interested in buying BUK-M1 and TOR-M1 missile systems to modernise its air defences.

Hlaing arrived yesterday, just as the UN Security Council adopted a statement deploring Myanmar's crushing of pro-democracy protests.

The UN statement urged the junta, which has ruled for 45 years, to release all political prisoners and prepare for genuine dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 2001, Russia sold 10 MiG-29 fighters to Myanmar, which is also in talks with Moscow to build a nuclear research reactor in Myanmar.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month he regretted that civilians died in the crackdown on anti-government protesters in Myanmar, but said it was ''premature'' to talk about sanctions.

''Pragmatism in relations with the states violating human rights is turning into an element of economic rivalry between new big players -- China, India and Russia -- with Western firms which sometimes are forced to tear up lucrative contracts under pressure from public opinion,'' Vedomosti wrote.

REUTERS PD RK1755

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