NEW DELHI / ANKARA (REUTERS) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss rising violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state during a visit that begins on Tuesday (Sept 5), and push for greater progress on long-running Indian infrastructure projects, officials said.
Myanmar has come under pressure from countries with large Muslim populations to stop violence against Rohingya Muslims after at least 400 people were killed in the deadliest bout of violence targeting the minority group in decades.
Turkey’s foreign minister was also expected to travel to Bangladesh to hold meetings about the fighting in north-western Myanmar, sources said. Mevlut Cavusoglu will travel to Bangladesh from Baku on Wednesday evening, the sources said. President Tayyip Erdogan has said the death of Rohingya Muslims constituted a genocide.
Modi will begin his visit to Myanmar on Tuesday, where he is also expected to push for greater progress on long-running Indian infrastructure projects, officials said.
His first bilateral visit comes amid a spike in violence in Rakhine which began Aug 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of police posts and an army base. The ensuing clashes and a military counter-offensive have killed at least 400 people and triggered the exodus of villagers to Bangladesh.
India seeks to boost economic ties with resource-rich Myanmar, with which it shares a 1,600km border, to counter Chinese influence and step up connectivity with a country it considers its gateway to South-east Asia.
Two-way trade has grown to around US$2.2 billion (S$3 billion) as India courted Myanmar following the gradual end of military rule, but Indian-funded projects have moved slowly.
Modi's promises to "Act East" and cement ties with India's eastern neighbour have slipped even as China has strengthened its influence.
The violence could hit development of a transport corridor that begins in Rakhine, with the Indian-built port of Sittwe and includes road links to India's remote northeast, analysts said.
"It's going to be a very vexed and complex issue," said Tridivesh Singh Maini, a New Delhi-based expert on ties with Myanmar.
"You need to play it very smartly. You need to make it clear that Rakhine violence has regional implications...but India will not get into saying, 'This is how you should resolve it.'"
Last month, India said it wanted to deport 40,000 Rohingya refugees who left Myanmar in previous years.
Modi arrives from China late on Tuesday in the capital Naypyitaw to meet President Htin Kyaw on a three-day visit.
New Delhi believes the best way to reduce tension in Rakhine is through development efforts, such as the Kaladan transport project there, said Indian foreign ministry official Sripriya Ranganathan.
"We are very confident that once that complete corridor is functional, there will be a positive impact on the situation in the state," she told reporters.
Modi will meet Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and visit the heritage city of Bagan and a Hindu temple. The countries share close cultural ties, and several in Myanmar trace their roots to India.
Modi will also talk up a trilateral highway project connecting India's northeast with Myanmar and Thailand.
"There is a fear that China is already going full steam ahead," said Udai Bhanu Singh of Delhi think-tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. "From the Indian side, there has been some laxity."
Singh said India could offer Myanmar help in building its navy and coastguard, while Myanmar would seek assurances that India was a reliable economic partner and an alternative power to Beijing.