NEW DELHI — Myanmar’s military ruler Than Shwe flew to Hyderabad Wednesday on the latest leg of a controversial state visit toIndia that has garnered millions of dollars in grants for infrastructure projects.
The general left New Delhi having received a full, red-carpet welcome Tuesday and held talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Human rights groups have severely criticised India for bestowing a formal state visit on Than Shwe, arguing that it helps legitimise a military regime that has been widely condemned for systematic rights abuses.
The two countries signed a series of pacts Tuesday including one to strengthen security along their common border, where India is struggling to curb ethnic separatists.
India also offered a grant of 60 million dollars to build a road connecting Myanmar with the northeast Indian state of Mizoram.
India’s EXIM bank agreed to provide a 60-million-dollar line of credit to fund various railway projects, and New Delhi also pledged 10 million dollars for the purchase of modern agricultural equipment.
Once a staunch supporter of Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, India began engaging the junta in the mid-1990s as security, energy and strategic priorities came to the fore.
As well as needing the military regime’s help to counter the separatists along the common border, India is eyeing oil and gas fields in Myanmar — formerly Burma — and is eager to counter China’s growing influence there.
China is the junta’s key ally and trading partner, and an eager investor in the isolated state’s sizeable natural resources.
The Myanmar junta, which has ruled with an iron fist for nearly 50 years, has promised to hold the first elections since 1990 later this year, and Singh had been urged by rights groups and some Western countries to pressure Than Shwe on the need for a free and fair ballot.
A joint statement said the prime minister had simply “emphasized the importance of comprehensively broad-basing the national reconciliation process and democratic changes being introduced in Myanmar.”
Western nations have dismissed the proposed election as a sham, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is boycotting the ballot.
Than Shwe was due to meet Indian business leaders in Hyderabad on Wednesday. He flies to the eastern city of Kolkata the next day before returning home.