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India Signs Energy Pact with Burma


India has signed an agreement with Burma to buy natural gas from the military-ruled nation. The two countries concluded the deal during a landmark three-day visit by Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam to Burma.

The energy cooperation agreement signed recently in Rangoon is a preliminary deal that will allow New Delhi to access Burma's vast reserves of natural gas via a pipeline running either through India's northeast or Bangladesh.

The agreement was signed while President APJ Abdul Kalam was in Rangoon on the first visit to Burma by an Indian head of state.

Political analysts say the high-level visit signifies India's determination to develop closer ties with Burma, whose military leadership is shunned by many countries.

The United States and European countries, among others, have imposed economic sanctions on the Burmese regime in an effort to push the country toward democratic reform.

Previously India also opposed the Burmese military government, but it reversed the policy more than a decade ago and is now pushing for greater cooperation.

Political observers say India's strategic and economic interests are driving it to strengthen ties with a neighbor that could help meet its growing energy needs and open up land routes to East Asian countries.

Independent political analyst Prem Shankar Jha in New Delhi says India also wants to offset the rising influence of China in Burma.

"There is a growing apprehension in India that of course if we may go along with the EU and U.S. and try isolating Burma, but the Chinese are not isolating Burma," said Jha. "The Chinese are steadily building their presence there whether in roads, ports, or educational institutions and needless to say, of course, markets. Burma has been traditionally very close to us; we do not want this to go out of hand completely."

China and India are currently competing to buy Burma's gas reserves, but officials in Rangoon say the energy pact with New Delhi is identical to one signed with China last year.

Agreements on cooperation in education and satellite technology were also signed during the Indian president's visit, which ends Friday.

But New Delhi's policy of engagement with the Rangoon government is strongly opposed by pro-democracy groups and Burmese exiles in India. They accuse the world's largest democracy of granting legitimacy to what they call a "bloody military regime."