Myanmar ruler in India, prays at Bodh Gaya



Patna: Myanmar's military ruler General Than Shwe began a five-day state visit to India Sunday by offering prayers at the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. He will reach Delhi Monday, where he will meet Indian leaders and sign several agreements.

The General landed at the Gaya airport around 10.30 am. After resting for a while at a hotel at Bodh Gaya, he left for Rajgrih in Nalanda district - a historic Buddhist site.

Than Shwe, 77, prayed Sunday evening and then visited the Bodhi tree under which Lord Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, an official said.

Than Shwe, who heads the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) - as Myanmar's junta styles itself - will reach New Delhi Monday evening.

The substantive part of his visit will begin Tuesday when he will meet the Indian leadership, including President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna.

Counter-terrorism and energy security are expected to be among the areas of discussion with Manmohan Singh Tuesday evening, followed by the signing of joint agreements.

Patil will host a banquet in the honour of the General at Rashtrapati Bhawan.

In return for enhanced Indian investment in hydropower, hydrocrabons and infrastructure projects, Than Shwe may ask for India's support for Myanmar's forthcoming elections which are widely viewed as lacking legitimacy.

The main opposition National League for Democracy and its iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi are barred from contesting. The elections are part of what the junta has called "disciplined democracy".

India, which supported Myanmar's pro-democracy uprising in 1988 but turned pragmatic in the mid-1990s after increasing Chinese forays into that country, has been doing a balancing act between trying to get lucrative business deals while in competition with China.

India also hosts a large population of Myanmarese refugees, with estimates ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 - most of them in the northeastern states.

IANS