India, Myanmar ink deal to support projects in Rakhine State

India, Myanmar ink deal to support projects in Rakhine State

India on Wednesday inked an agreement with Myanmar pledging to support development projects in the neighbouring country's Rakhine State the scene of a fierce ethnic conflict, which forced over 6,30,000 Rohingyas to escape to Bangladesh since August 25.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Myanmar's Deputy Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, U Soe Aung, signed the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on New Delhi's support to Rakhine State Development Programme.

The projects India planned to support in the conflict-hit province include one to build pre-fabricated houses for the Rohingyas, who might return from refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Nay Pyi Daw and Dhaka on November 23 last inked an agreement for the return of the Rohingyas from the refugee camps in Bangladesh. The two nations formed a joint working group on Tuesday to coordinate and oversee the repatriation of the Rohingyas.

Jaishankar is currently on a visit to Nay Pyi Daw. He called on Myanmar's State Counsellor and de facto ruler Aung San Suu Kyi and had a meeting with the minister in charge of her office, U Kyaw Tint Swe.

He also had a meeting with the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and discussed issues related to bilateral security cooperation as well as the situation in Rakhine State.

Suu Kyi's Government in Nay Pyi Daw, as well as the armed forces of Myanmar, drew flak from around the world for the latest wave of violence against the Rohingyas in Rakhine State of the country.

The MoU signed by Jaishankar and Soe Aung is the first inter-governmental agreement inked by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement of Myanmar Government with a cooperation partner for socio-economic development and livelihood initiatives in Rakhine State, Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said in New Delhi.

The minority Rohingyas have since been victims of persecution in the Rakhine State, where Buddhists constitute the majority. They have been denied citizenship and most of them have been stateless, despite living for generations in Myanmar.

Myanmar's armed forces launched the latest military crackdown against the Rohingyas on August 25 after a militant outfit killed 12 security personnel in Rakhine. With hundreds of them killed and villages burnt down, over 630,000 Rohingyas, including children had to flee Myanmar and take refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh over the past few months. Not only the US Government, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees too termed the violence against Rohingyas as "ethnic cleansing".

New Delhi, however, stood by Suu Kyi's Government and refrained from criticizing her. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in fact, visited Nay Pyi Daw just a week after the violence against the Rohingyas started in Rakhine. He had a meeting with Suu Kyi and the two leaders agreed to bring about overall socio-economic development in the Rakhine State by "undertaking both infrastructure and socio-economic projects, particularly in the spheres of education, health, agriculture and allied activities, agro-processing, community development, construction of small bridges, upgrading roads, small power projects, livelihood activity, setting up of training centres, promotion of household crafts, conservation of environment and cultural heritage".

Suu Kyi welcomed New Delhi's offer of assistance under the Rakhine State Development Programme and the two sides finalized the MoU detailing the implementation modalities over the past few months.

Jaishankar on Wednesday also reviewed the progress of other India-funded projects in Myanmar, including the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Transit Project, which too would commence in the Rakhine State.

The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Transit Project is aimed at linking Mizoram state in northeast India to the Bay of Bengal through Chin and Rakhine State of Myanmar.

The project consists of a new jetty in Sittwe Port in Rakhine State, an inland water transport corridor to Paletwa in southern Chin State and a highway from Paletwa to India-Myanmar border.

"If completed, the project could significantly improve connectivity in the area, and possibly improve Rakhine's access to markets in India," a panel led by former UN Secretary-General General Kofi Annan observed. Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State was appointed by Suu Kyi's Government to recommend measures for finding lasting solutions to the complex and delicate issues in the province.

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