India Urges Swift Burma Road Build

By Zarni Mann 21 December 2012

RANGOON—The completion of the long-awaited India-Burma-Thailand highway connection should be a key priority for the three involved nations as it would boost trade links with Asean, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said during Burmese President Thein Sein’s visit to New Delhi on Friday.

“We should […] attach high priority to a quick implementation of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and its extension to Lao PDR and Cambodia,” Singh said at the opening ceremony of the Asean-India Commemoration Summit in the capital.

“We should also launch the second track that would run from India through Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia to Vietnam,” he added, referring to a second transport route through the Golden Triangle region that would connect India and Burma with the Indochina region countries.

Thein Sein was on a two-day visit for an event to highlight the 10th anniversary of the Asean-India summit-level partnership and he had bilateral meetings with his Indian counterpart on the sidelines of the event.

Talks had focused in part on finalizing a long-awaited memorandum (MoU) of understanding between Burma and India regarding the 3,200-km overland road connection, which runs from the Indian border town Moreh in Manipur State to Mandalay, Rangoon and Myawaddy, where it connects with Thailand.

During a visit to Naypyidaw in May, Manmohan Singh and Thein Sein discussed completing the road by 2016. Recently India loaned Burma US $500 million, part of which will be used to fund a section of the road running between Mandalay and the Indian border.

However, discussions about building the road—which India has called its “gateway to Asean”—have been ongoing since 2004 and no agreement has been signed.

Ahead of Thein Sein’s visit on Tuesday, India’s External Affair spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said bilateral discussions about the agreement had progressed recently, but Burma had asked for time to discuss the agreement internally.

“The MoU has not yet been finalized… [There] have been discussions and both sides have moved on from where they were in May,” he told a press conference.

“They have taken this [draft agreement] back and they require to complete some sort of internal processes before the announcements are made … Now we are in the final stages of that activity.”

On Friday, Asean and India also finalized a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) after discussions on investment and services chapters were completed.

“This is a historic step, and together with the conclusion of the negotiations on FTA in Services and Investments, defines a qualitatively new paradigm of our partnership. We are committed to achieving a target of USD 100 billion for ASEAN-India trade by 2015, and also expect tariff-free lines to increase,” said Singh.

During his visit Thein Sein also travelled to Mumbai to meet with Confederation of Indian Industry and was scheduled to visit Ratanagiri on India’s southwestern coast, where King Thibaw, Burma’s last monarch, died in exile.

Human rights activist held several protests during Thein Sein’s visit to urge the Indian government to ensure the transparency in its investments in Burma—such as the Kaladan Multi Modal Project—to prevent land confiscations and forced relocations, while also ensuring that weapons and ammunition are not provided to the Burmese military.