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Burmese Military Leaders Hold Talks in India

One of Burma's principle military rulers, General Than Shwe, is in India to strengthen political and economic ties. It is the first visit by a Burmese leader to India in the last 24 years, and it was marked by protests by Burmese pro-democracy activists.

Monday's meetings between Burmese Senior General Than Shwe, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Natwar Singh were marked by promises to improve bilateral ties.

The two countries signed several agreements to expand economic and security cooperation. They want to boost ties in areas ranging from industry to communications and energy.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna says India also received commitments from Burma to act against separatist groups active in India's northeastern states. New Delhi says these rebels often cross the border to find sanctuary in neighboring Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"General Than Shwe conveyed his assurance to the Indian leadership that Myanmar would not permit his territory to be used by any hostile element for harming Indian interests," he said. "They would not hesitate to take appropriate action against such groups."

As the talks were under way in New Delhi, Burmese exiles held several protests, waving black flags and burning effigies of Burmese military leaders. They criticized India for hosting the visit, saying the world's largest democracy was sending a wrong signal to pro-democracy groups in Burma by granting legitimacy to what they called a "bloody military regime."

New Delhi initially supported the cause of democracy in Burma. But it reversed direction a decade ago, and began engaging the military leadership.

The director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi, Uday Bhaskar, says the change in policy was primarily driven by India's security interests.

"As you may be aware, India has a low intensity conflict, internal security challenge in the Indian northeast, and to deal with this, engaging with Myanmar and the regime would be the preferred option," he said.

The two countries also want to double trade to $1 billion by 2006. India is currently the second largest market for Burmese goods after Thailand.

General Than Shwe is scheduled to be in India for six days. He visit will include a stop in Bangalore, one of India's technology centers.