India, Myanmar to explore new initiatives to boost ties: PM

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New Delhi, May 27: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said India and Myanmar would explore new initiatives and define a roadmap for further boosting of bilateral ties with focus on trade, investment and connectivity as he begins a three-day visit to that country.

Pointing out that India attaches the highest importance to its relations with Myanmar, a "close friend and neighbour", Singh said in a statement shortly before his departure for Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar's new capital, that "recent years have witnessed significant strengthening and expansion of our bilateral relations" and his coming visit "will provide an opportunity to review the progress in implementation of decisions" taken during the "highly successful visit" of Myanmar President Thein Sein to India in October last year.

"We will also consider new initiatives and define a roadmap for the further development of our cooperation in the years ahead," said Singh who will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Myanmar in quarter of a century since Rajiv Gandhi's trip to that country in December 1987.

The Prime Minister, who will hold talks with Sein tomorrow at Nay Pyi Taw, said that during his visit to Myanmar he hopes to focus on "stronger trade and investment links, development of border areas, improving connectivity between our two countries and building capacity and human resources".

"We also hope to sign a number of agreements and MoUs to further strengthen our bilateral cooperation in these areas, besides promoting people-to-people contacts," Singh said.

Singh, who will also meet leader of the opposition and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Tuesday, said India welcomes Myanmar's "transition to democratic governance and the steps taken by the government of Myanmar towards a more broad-based and inclusive reconciliation process and offered to share "democratic experiences" with that country. 

Since assuming office more than a year ago, President Thein Sein has surprised many critics by releasing Suu Kyi from 15 years of house arrest and allowing her National League for Democracy (NLD) to contest and win parliamentary elections in April this year, freeing other political prisoners, opening talks with ethnic rebels and easing media censorship and restoring labour unions right to strike.

Singh said he was looking forward to address a cross- section of Myanmar society and interact with the Indian and Indian-origin community in Yangon on the final day of his visit.

The Prime Minister said the "shared history and culture" of India and Myanmar "provides a strong basis for the enhancement of contacts between the people of our two countries" and India remains "committed to a close, cooperative and mutually beneficial partnership with the government and people of Myanmar".

Singh said he is looking forward to visiting the historic Shwedagon Pagoda, a testament to 2600 years of Buddhist heritage, and the mazar (the grave) of the last Emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar, in Yangon. The Pagoda houses the hairs of Lord Buddha who had given them to two merchant brothers in return for a honey cake they offered to him.

High on Singh's agenda of talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein, a former army general heading a quasi-civilian government, will be deepening ties in energy, security, connectivity, trade and information technology.

The two countries are expected to sign a number of agreements in energy sector and connectivity during the visit. The high-points among the slew of agreements will be the ones relating to an offshore gas block awarded to private Indian company Jubilant Energy in global competition and a passenger bus service between Imphal and Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city after Yangon.

PTI

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