New Delhi, Oct 3 (PTI) Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will travel to Myanmar on a two-day visit beginning Sunday with an aim to further expand ties in a range of areas including connectivity, defence and security.
Announcing the visit, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it will provide an opportunity to take stock of the existing bilateral ties and strengthen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
It will be Gen Naravane's first visit to any foreign country after he took charge as the Chief of Army Staff on December 31 last year.
The visit by Gen Naravane and Shringla assumes significance as it comes in the midst of the Indian Army's bitter border standoff with the Chinese military in eastern Ladakh as well restrictions on foreign visits due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gen Naravane and Shringla are scheduled to meet top military and political brass of Myanmar including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Myanmar is one of India's strategic neighbours and shares a 1,640-km-long border with a number of northeastern states including militancy-hit Nagaland and Manipur.
'During their visit, the delegation will call on the State Counsellor of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing,' the MEA said in a statement.
The visit is taking place four days after the two countries carried out a detailed review of their ties in a wide range of areas at a virtual meeting held under the framework of India-Myanmar foreign office consultations.
In the meeting, Shringla said India and Myanmar are working towards operationalising the Sittwe Port by the first quarter of next year and that the tendering process for 69 bridges proposed under the ambitious India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway will begin soon.
Sittwe Port is part of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project which is being viewed as India's gateway to Southeast Asia. The port will connect India’s landlocked northeastern region with the Bay of Bengal through Mizoram.
In his remarks, Shringla also said that Myanmar’s handing over of 22 Indian insurgents has been deeply appreciated by India and sends a strong message of 'deterrence to inimical elements on both sides.' People familiar with the scheduled visit by two top officials to Myanmar said deepening bilateral defence and security cooperation and enhancing connectivity will be two priority areas.
In its statement, the MEA said India attaches high priority to its relationship with Myanmar in accordance with its 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East' policies.
'In recent times, both sides have strengthened their cooperation in several areas, including connectivity and trade, development projects, energy, capacity building, defence and security and culture and people to people links,' the MEA said.
India has been concerned over some militant groups from the North-East region taking shelter in Myanmar. The country has been assuring India that it would not allow any insurgent group to use its territory against India.
In June, 2015 the Indian Army had carried out an operation in areas near the Indo-Myanmar against the NSCN (K) militants, days after the ultras had killed 18 Army men in Manipur.
The two countries have significantly ramped up defence and security cooperation in the last few years including in the maritime security sphere.
India has been assisting Myanmar in developing border areas under an agreement inked in 2012 that provided for granting USD 5 million each year over a period of five years. This MoU has already been extended till 2022.
India's development cooperation in Myanmar is estimated at USD 1.4 billion.
The two countries are also expanding partnership in the area of energy cooperation.
With investments of over USD 1.2 billion, Myanmar has the highest Indian investment in any country in South Asia, a source said.
Recently, India approved an investment of over USD 120 million in the Shwe Oil and Gas project. PTI MPB RT