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NEWS UPDATES 26 July 2010

India hosts Myanmar general

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Myanmar's military ruler Than Shwe arrived in India Sunday for a state visit that underscores the growing strategic ties between the two countries.

Shwe began his visit in Bodha Gaya, the temple town and pilgrimage post in eastern India where Buddha gained enlightenment. His ceremonial state welcome in New Delhi will take place on Tuesday, AFP reports.

The red-carpet reception planned for Shwe, who rarely travels abroad, has been sharply criticised by human rights groups as a betrayal of India's democratic credentials and an implicit endorsement of Shwe's military.

Once a staunch supporter of Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, India began engaging the military in the mid-1990s as security, energy and strategic priorities began to override concerns over democracy and human rights.

As well as needing the military's help to counter ethnic separatists operating along their remote common border, India is eyeing oil and gas fields in Myanmar and fears losing out to China in the race for strategic space in Asia.

"India and Myanmar will work towards expanding engagements at all levels," an India foreign ministry official said of Shwe's visit.

"It is crucial for India to cement its relationship with Myanmar to deal with the insurgency that plagues the northeast and to counter balance China's influence," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The European Union, United States and other countries have targeted Myanmar with economic sanctions and travel bans, but their impact on the military regime has been diluted by support from China, India and Thailand.

"We would encourage India and other countries to send a clear message to Burma that it needs to change its course," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday before Shwe's visit.

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