Cablegate: Mea Silent Regarding Public Declaration of Ban On
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 004898
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/07/2027
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM BM IN
SUBJECT: MEA SILENT REGARDING PUBLIC DECLARATION OF BAN ON
ARMS SALES TO BURMA
REF: SECSTATE 144933
Classified By: Political Counselor Ted Osius for reasons 1.4 (b and d)
1. (C)SUMMARY: MEA Joint Secretary T.S. Tirumurti acknowledged that the Government of India (GOI) denied a Burmese request for military equipment but did not comment on PolCouns' suggestion that the GOI announce the decision publicly. Tirumurti reported that three Burmese recently arrested in Manipur for illegal entry were neither economic migrants nor asylum seekers but traveling to train at a madrassah in Uttar Pradesh. He rejected the need for UNHCR access to asylum seekers, noting that the GOI was ""quite capable of doing it ourselves."" Tirumurti confirmed that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is assiduously pursuing various development projects to open up ASEAN trade routes to the northeastern states including:
-the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project, which includes the USD 103 million Sittwe project;
-a Tri-Lateral Highway in cooperation with Burma and
Thailand. END SUMMARY.
----- GOI mum on public announcement of arms sales ban to Burma -----
2. (C)On November 6, PolCouns urged MEA Joint Secretary (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Maldives) to follow up on the GOI commitment to cease arms sales to Burma with a public statement, declaring that it would signal to Burma that its neighbors are not willing to carry on business as usual with the junta. Tirumurti did not offer a comment, but noted that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee sent a letter to Burma's acting Prime Minister urging that Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari be afforded ""maximum broad-based access"" to leaders in Burmese society and reminding the regime that national reconciliation must be broad-based.
----- India will not allow UNHCR access to possible asylum seekers -----
3. (C) Responding to PolCouns' pressure to grant UNHCR access to Burmese asylum seekers (reftel), Tirumurti said that the GOI foresees no mass influx along its India-Burma border and commented that ""we are quite capable of doing it ourselves (assessing the status of asylum seekers). The UNHCR has no role there."" He defended India's stance regarding refugees, noting that it has accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees from Tibet and Sri Lanka. Tirumurti declared that, after speaking with Ambassador Mulford, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon had instructed him to investigate the recent case of three Burmese held on the Manipur/Burma border for immigration law violations and reported that the subjects were neither economic migrants nor refugees. He said that they were religious students going to train at a madrassah in Uttar Pradesh, and had tried to enter India illegally.
----- Two projects running through Burma offer connectivity to the northeastern states -----
4. (C) Addressing MEA's involvement in the economic development of the northeastern states, Tirumurti reiterated that opening up trade routes to ASEAN for the northeastern states was an important focus for the GOI. He declared that the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project deal was near completion, and the GOI was ready to begin work. He also commented that the GOI was pursuing a Tri-Lateral Highway that will connect the northeast to Thailand. He explained that, although the complete project had yet to be costed, the proposed road construction would connect the Imphal- Moreh road in India's northeastern state of Manipur with Mae Sot, Thailand, passing through Mandalay and Bagan. Tirumurti conceded that the extent to which the two projects would develop as trade routes was ""a leap of faith.""
----- Dutt upholds Indian interests in Burma -----
5. (C) Rationalizing India's approach to Burma, Deputy National Security Advisor Shekhar Dutt told PolCouns in a separate November 6 meeting that, for India, ""the most important thing is that the Burmese authorities have to be constantly engaged. ""Dutt reasoned that to condemn the junta NEW DELHI 00004898 002 OF 002 would serve to make it less likely to respond positively to requests from the international community. ""We don't want them to become inaccessible or stubborn,"" Dutt cautioned, adding his suggestion would instead be to engage Burmese authorities at different levels. In fact, Dutt argued, civil society should play a lead role in influencing the junta's behavior, through activities such as increased tourism, cultural programs, academic exchange and even foreign television programs. Dutt also argued that the overall situation in Burma was relatively stable and that the average Burmese had it better than inhabitants of other conflict areas, such as Sudan.
----- Parthasarathy: Burma is about China -----
6. (C) Former Indian Ambassador to Burma G. Parthasarathy, one of the architects of India's 1993 decision to engage with the junta, described India's policy toward Burma by putting it in the broader perspective of India's rivalry with China. Speaking to PolCouns on November 6, Parthasarathy recalled that each time India presses the junta on democracy or human rights, the Burmese government responds by moving closer to China. China would like to use Burma to contain India by, for instance, installing facilities in the Bay of Bengal to monitor Indian ship movements and/or missile tests, or establishing surveillance posts near the Indian border, Parthasarathy reasoned. The junta has also been helpful in assisting Indian efforts to control ULFA insurgents along the border, he said. It is only because India maintains good relations with the Burmese government that it is able to protect its interests in Burma. Therefore, Parthasarathy rejects the idea of sanctions on the regime. Rather, he recommends a ""Track II"" approach to involve the major players in the region (he listed ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea and the United Nations, adding the U.S. could work through Japan or India) to work on priority initiatives such as making the national convention more representative, easing restrictions on personal liberties, or pushing for a national consensus on governance. Another venue for action would be the upcoming ASEAN summit, he suggested, where heads of government could meet to seek common ground for a multilateral approach on Burma.
7. (C) COMMENT: At a November 7 lunch with like-minded embassies (U.K., Australia, Canada, New Zealand), colleagues revealed that they have had frustrations similar to ours, not only in getting India to play a more public role on Burma, but even in gaining access with MEA to discuss events in Burma. With the door apparently closing to the diplomatic corps for bilateral approaches on Burma, one idea that was floated was a coordinated approach with East Asian countries using venues such as the ASEAN and EAS summits, so as not to give the perception that this is an east-west issue, to influence India's public posture on the junta. Should the U.S. want more from India on Burma, post feels this is an approach which merits further consideration. END COMMENT.