President Kovind begins Myanmar visit


File Photo of President Ram Nath Kovind

File Photo of President Ram Nath Kovind

President Ram Nath Kovind will visit Myanmar from December 10 to 14 during which he will hold talks with his counterpart U Win Myint and state counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Ministry of External Affairs said Thursday.

Elaborating on the visit, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the president and First Lady Savita will reach Nay Pyi Taw on December 10.

President Kovind will have his first engagement on December 11 during which he will hold talks with U Win Myint and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he said in a media briefing.

Several agreements are expected to be signed during the visit.

The president will visit the Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education and the Rice Bio-park, both of which have been funded with Indian assistance, on December 12, Gokhale said.

President Kovind and the First Lady will travel to Yangoon and lay wreath at the Martyrs Mausoleum, where Gen Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi rests, on the same day. They will also visit the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The president will also interact with the surviving veterans of the Indian National Army (INA).

On December 13, the president will visit the Shri Kali Temple and also the ‘mazhar’ (shrine) of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor who was exiled to Myanmar and died in Yangoon.

Finally, he will visit the Dhamma Joti Vipassana Meditation Centre and inaugurate the ‘Enterprise India’ exhibitions in which 45 Indian companies are expected to participate.

Highlighting the importance of the visit, the foreign secretary said Myanmar was a “close neighbour” and served India as a link to Southeast Asia.

In the past three years, political, economic and defence ties with Myanmar have been on upswing with visits of top leaders to the respective countries.

The armies and navies of the two countries also participate in bilateral military drills.

Prime Minister Narendra  Modi had visited Myanmar last year, while Aung San Suu Kyi visited India this January for the India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit.

Late last year, the two countries had signed the Rakhine State Development Programme, designed to assist the Myanmarese government in Rakhine to build housing infrastructure for the return of the displaced Rohingyas.

In the first phase, 250 units have been planned and through virtual means, the president will be handing over the first 50 units, Gokhale said.

Responding to a question on the issue of Rohingyas, the official said, “So far as the situation in the Rakhine state is concerned, the Government of India has noted that the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have recently reached a bilateral understanding.

“Obviously, as the only country which neighbours Bangladesh and Myanmar, we believe it is in our interest and interest of the region that this bilateral interest is implemented as soon as possible and that the displaced persons return to their homeland as soon as possible,” he said.

According to the UNICEF, as of April 2018, an estimated 6,93,000 Rohingyas have been driven into Bangladesh, of which over half of them are children, after the violence in the Rakhine state. India has over 40,000 Rohingyas.

In response to a question on the trilateral highway connecting India-Myanmar-Thailand, Gokhale said a large part of it had been completed by the governments of the three nations.

However, key bridges over some rivers and streams are under construction, he said.

“It is likely to take time because we are operating in difficult conditions, both geographically and in terms of security in some cases, because of disturbances in parts of Myanmar,” Gokhale said.

On reports about insurgents from Myanmar coming to the Indian state of Manipur with IEDs and whether this issue will be raised during Kovind’s visit, the foreign secretary said these matters are raised by India at all levels–at the local commander’s level meeting and the higher level.

“This is, of course, a presidential visit and in a presidential visit, only a broad overview normally takes place. The president is not the executive head of the country. We in some manner or the other will express concern,” he said.

Gokhale added that the governments and armed forces of the two countries have a good understanding and they are able to discuss issues and resolve them.