- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

CALCUTTA — India is supplying arms to Burma’s military junta to counter China’s influence in the neighboring country, but pro-democracy activists fear the junta will use the weapons to suppress opposition and resist democratization.

Though New Delhi says the Indian arms are meant for use by the Burmese army only against northeast Indian rebels who have jungle bases on Burma’s side of the border, Burmese democracy activists are concerned that ethnic minorities and pro-democracy activists will be the targets.

Analysts say the cooperation goes beyond targeting insurgents: India is courting Burma to counter China’s expanding influence in the region.

On a visit to India last December, Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, the No. 3 ranking member of the junta, asked New Delhi for a range of military equipment.

In January on a visit to Burma, India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the junta’s vice chairman, Gen. Maung Aye, that a “favorable response” would be granted.

Although no details were disclosed regarding the arms, news reports said Burma sought field guns, helicopters, submarines, mortars, submarine-detecting sonar equipment, surveillance aircraft and spares for its MiG fighter planes.

Indian arms for junta

India was already supplying Burma with military hardware, including field guns and howitzers, Lt. Gen. S. Pattabhiraman, the Indian army’s vice chief, revealed in October. Also, the Indian navy last year gave Burma two BN-2 Defender maritime surveillance aircraft, deck-based air-defense guns and surveillance equipment.

Burmese democracy activists say India began supplying arms to Burma in 2003, with 139 truckloads of apparent military consignments entering the country through the northeast Indian border town of Moreh over the last four years. Indian military consignments are also reaching Burma by sea, activists report.

While the United States and the European Union seek to isolate the junta through an arms embargo and wider sanctions, India has taken the opposite tack in the hope of getting Burma’s rulers to crack down on insurgents, especially in the northeast Indian states of Manipur and oil- and tea-rich Assam.

Insurgents eyed

For years, about a dozen Indian secessionist rebel groups have maintained bases in Burma’s jungles.

In January, one such group, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) — still its name in English, although the correct spelling is Asom in Assamese, and ULFA now calls itself the United Liberation Front of Asom — killed 70 migrant laborers from Bihar in a campaign against non-Assamese people in the region.

In February, 24 Indian soldiers were killed in two ambushes by United National Liberation Front (UNLF) guerrillas in Manipur.

“Our crackdown on the groups was never successful in the past — every time the guerrillas fled across the border. It is impossible to crush these secessionist forces unless we get Burma’s help and target them inside the forest there,” Mr. Mukherjee said on his return from Burma in January.

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