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India, Burma to Formalize Transport Pact


India and Burma are set to formalize an agreement next week for New Delhi to fund a Burmese port project that will allow India's landlocked northeastern states strategic access to the sea. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

Burma's second-highest ranking military leader is due to arrive in the Indian capital next week. During his visit, Vice-Senior General Maung Aye is set to sign an agreement with the Indian government that will give the military government an additional $135 million in aid. Most of that money will be used to refurbish a port that will be for India's use.

The Sittwe Port expansion, upgrading of the Kaladan Waterway and a new 117-kilometer long road on the Indian side of the border, will give India's landlocked northeastern states vital access to the sea.

India's government approved the deal Thursday following six rounds of talks over five years between India and Burma.

The project, to be supervised by India's Inland Waterways Authority, will provide greatly improved access to Mizoram and six other land-locked northeastern states, collectively known as the "Seven Sisters."

But Debbie Stothardt, coordinator of the non-government Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, cautions that the project may have unintended consequences for India.

"The Indian government must understand that by opening up this port and this highway directly into Mizoram they are not just hoping to get development," she said. "They may actually make it easier for people to flee Burma if there are human rights abuses or there are any big problems in Burma."

There are believed to be tens of thousands of Burmese refugees living in India.

For New Delhi, however, the deal with Burma is seen as economically critical for development because of the difficulty for Indian trucks to get transit rights from Bangladesh to carry goods to India's northeast.

The Indo-Burmese project is expected to take five years to complete. General Aye is to arrive in India April 4 on a three-day visit.

India has faced international criticism for putting economic interests over human rights in its relationship with Burma. India contends dialog, not sanctions, are the best way to prod the military government into improving the political and human rights situation in the country.

India finds itself in increasing competition with China for diplomatic and economic influence in Burma, considered to be one of the

world's poorest and most corrupt countries.

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