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EXCLUSIVE: Need to rebuild relationship between our countries, says India's ambassador to Myanmar

'Once we were very close to Myanmar but a decade after independence our paths diverged and break happened on which we have to work,' Vikram Misri told WION. Photograph: (DNA)

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Sep 05, 2017, 06.49 AM (IST) Kartikeya Sharma

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lands in Myanmar, WION's Kartikeya Sharma speaks with Vikram Misri, India's ambassador to Myanmar.  

Kartikeya Sharma: This is the Prime Minister's first bilateral visit to Myanmar. What's on the agenda?
Vikram Misri:
It is his first bilateral visit which comes at a time when Myanmar is in transition. It is an important and large neighbour. It is a country where we have ancient linkages. Myanmar figures prominently in our foreign policy issues which is Act East and Neighbourhood First. There are many development projects which we are doing in Myanmar. During the visit, we will review the projects. We will ask them of their priority. There will be discussions on regional issues and common security.

Sharma: Why has there been a delay in the Kaladan project?
Kaladan is a large and complex project and situated in part of the country where implementation has been difficult. It is a 770 million-dollar project. Because of many moving parts there has been a delay in the project. The Sittwe port has been built. Six barges have been handed over to the government also. We have also awarded the contract for the final section of the project which is the road.

Sharma: How does India view China forcing Myanmar to buy majority shares in deep water port projects in the Bay of Bengal?
This is between Myanmar and China. We in India deliver infrastructure projects differently. We believe in good governance practices and transfer of technology to local people. We also believe in being environmentally responsible and always align with national policy and don’t create debt for the host nation. In this context, I would again say that Myanmar needs to decide its course of action.

Sharma: What is India’s position on the Rohingyas?
There has been an upsurge of violence recently and it indeed is a complicated issue. But this issue has to be resolved by Myanmar only. Outside parties can only advice if asked for. Whenever there has been an opportunity, it was done. So, it has to be only resolved only by Myanmar.
But we condemn any violence as it doesn’t solve anything. We are hopeful that all stakeholders can come together. I should make mention of the fact that we had a very good report delivered by Kofi Annan Commission. It was set up by the Myanmar government and they have issued a constructive support to the report. The implementation of the submissions made by the commission can resolve the situation. But this cannot be done in the atmosphere characterised by violence. Hope parties eschew violence.

Sharma: There exists the problem of what is referred to as 'illegal immigration'. Moreover, the regime does not even acknowledge them and calls them 'Bengali Muslims'...
What different people call them, I’m not aware of it and even terminology is contentious and the sensitivity attached to it should be respected. Their treatment has to be in accordance with the law even in India. People need to approach this issue with care.

Sharma: There are two million expat Indians who feel the OIC card process should be speeded up. Many also get denied benefits in the absence of proper papers in Myanmar...
The issue is valid that there are problems with documentation. The Indian origin community has a rich and proud history. They have been loyal citizens of Myanmar. In so far as the issue of documentation is concerned we are engaged with the elders of the community. We are also engaged with the local government on this issue. On the issue of OIC cards, as you understand that there are certain parameters which need to be met. The current guidelines are different and we are trying to address the demand of the community.

Sharma: Bal Gangadhar Tilak spent six years in prison in Myanmar. Indians were also part of the colonial administration and there existed a people-to-people connect. But today we have horrible connectivity with a close neighbour. Indians need to go to Bangkok and Malaysia to come to Yangon...  
Misri:  You have put your figure on an important issue and I agree that there is a deficit when it comes to aerial connectivity. We also have a lot of deficit to make up without which we will not be able to achieve our objective which is close political and economic relations.

Sharma: The film Patanga was released in 1949 and the song Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon still lingers... But that also says the relationship between India and Myanmar has not moved forward... 
It is a fair point. All the linkages have been there. Once we were very close to Myanmar but a decade after independence our paths diverged and break happened on which we have to work.  We need to rebuild the relationship. We are in a new phase and it is the time to bring our out best efforts. People of India and Myanmar need to rediscover each other and common heritage. But it will take time. Certain institutional mechanisms need to be put into place. More important is that we put soft infrastructure in place like motor vehicle agreement.

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