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March 11, 2008

India to sign pact to develop Myanmar port

Maung AyeDespite the international pressure to apply sanctions on Myanmar, India is expected to sign an agreement with it on an ambitious multi-modal transport project in April when the second most powerful man in the country's ruling military junta visits India, Press Trust of India reported.

Myanmar’s Vice Senior General Maung Aye will arrive in New Delhi on April 4 for talks with Indian leaders on various bilateral issues, including economic cooperation, connectivity, security and energy.

The highlight of the visit is expected to be the signing of Kaladan multi-modal transport project which will connect Indian ports on the eastern seaboard and Sittwe Port in Myanmar.

It will provide alternate route for transport of goods to North East India, bypassing Bangladesh which has so far refused to grant transit to India.

After six rounds of talks since 2003, the two sides have initiated the Draft Framework Agreement on the Project, Draft Protocol on Facilitation of Transit Transport, Draft Protocol on Financial Arrangements and Draft Protocol on Joint Maintenance and Administration.

Under the Protocol on Financial Arrangements, Myanmar has agreed to contribute $10 million and free land for the project while India will contribute the balance amount of about $100 million as well as be liable for any cost overruns.

Once developed, the port will allow cargo vessels from India's Mizoram state to navigate the Kaladan River to Sittwe on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, AFP reported.

The port project would mark the latest venture between New Delhi and military-ruled Myanmar.

In August, New Delhi pledged $150 million for gas exploration in Myanmar amidst pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks against the country's military rulers.

Those investment plans drew criticism from the international community, which has been urging New Delhi and Beijing to pressure Myanmar to speed up democratic reforms.

New Delhi has consistently opposed economic sanctions describing it as counterproductive but says it is urging Myanmar to introduce reforms that are "broad-based, including pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi and various ethnic nationalities."

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