Thein Sein Visits Delhi for Summit amid Protests

By Zarni Mann 20 December 2012

Burmese President Thein Sein is en route to New Delhi to join regional leaders for a two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-India Commemorative Summit to begin on Thursday amid protests from democracy activists.

Thein Sein is also schedule to have bilateral meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the sidelines of the summit. The event is to highlight the 10th anniversary of the Asean-India summit-level partnership as well as the 20th anniversary of the Asean-India dialogue partnership.

However, activist in New Delhi have staged a five-day sit-in protest at Janta Mata Road to urge Asean leaders to review Burma’s upcoming chairmanship of the bloc in 2014. ‘’The release of political prisoners alone does not signify Burma’s transition to democracy,” said a statement from the Burmese Democratic Forces in India.

“Citizens’ land rights, freedom of speech and expression, the right to have assembly and form associations and common people’s rights must be respected and allowed to practice if the Burmese government genuinely wants to reinstall democracy in the country.”

The campaign group urged the Indian government to ensure the transparency in its investments in Burma, such as the Kaladan Multi Modal Project—connecting the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with Sittwe in Arakan State—to prevent land confiscation, forced relocations and extortion common with state-backed development projects, while also ensuring that weapons and ammunition are not provided to the Burmese military.

Activists are also holding a photo exhibition regarding the brutal crackdown on anti-copper mine protesters in Letpadaung, Sagaing Division, late last month. Around 90 Buddhist monks and local people suffered severe burns during the pre-dawn police raid.

The Indian government is being urged to pressure Naypyidaw to enforce a nationwide ceasefire, suspend the copper mine project and enact laws enabling the National Human Rights Commission to operate independently and with a broad-based mandate to investigate violations of fundamental human rights.

Cham Prasidh, Asean Economic Minister and Senior Commerce Minister of Cambodia, indicated on Monday that the bloc and India are all set to elevate their ties to a “strategic partnership,” with an announcement to that effect expected during the summit.

Meanwhile, Thein Sein is also scheduled to travel via Mumbai to Ratnagiri, in southern India, where the last Burmese monarch King Thibaw spent his time in exile. The former general is likely to visit Thibaw’s palace and his tomb, which lies in nearby undergrowth.

During a meeting with the press in Mandalay while the Asean-India car rally passed by the city, Indian Transport Minister AK Upadhyay reportedly said that the state governments of Manipur and Assam are planning to help with the restoration and conservation of Thibaw’s tomb.

The flag-down ceremony for the latest stage of the rally will be held in New Delhi on Friday as part of the summit. The race began in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Nov. 26.

Altogether, 124 participants drove through the contrasting terrain of eight of the 10 Asean nations plus the three northeast Indian states of Manipur, Nagaland and Assam, traversing a distance of around 8,000 km in 22 days.