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Indian PM signs deals with Myanmar

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India's prime minister has signed several deals with Myanmar during a visit aimed at boosting trade and energy links and contesting the influence of China.

Manmohan Singh, the first Indian prime minister to visit Myanmar in 25 years, met President Thein Sein in the capital, Naypyidaw, on Monday.

The neighbours signed 12 agreements covering an array of issues including security, development of border areas, a trade and investment pact and transport links between the two countries.

Singh is the latest in a series of high-level visitors to Myanmar as the international community begins easing sanctions, after the country's leaders implemented a range of political reforms.

Thein's government has held peace talks with ethnic minority rebels, relaxed strict media censorship, allowed trade unions and protests and held a by-election dominated by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party.

Singh will travel to the main city of Yangon for talks with Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, a meeting seen as a bid to repair relations with the opposition.

India was once a staunch supporter of the democracy icon, but changed track in the mid-1990s as it sought closer ties with Myanmar, and drew international criticism for its engagement with the former junta.

Export market

Singh is seen as looking to expand India's influence after half a century of military rule left Myanmar isolated and heavily reliant on investment and political support from China, its only ally.

India is already Myanmar's third-biggest export market after Thailand and China.

Indian-backed infrastructure projects in the country include a port at Sittwe on the Bay of Bengal, but India's presence lags well behind that of China, which is behind a host of major energy developments.

According to data from IHS Global Insight, China led the ranking in investments in Myanmar last year, pledging $8.3bn, with India trailing in 13th place, with $189m pledged.

Indian trade with Myanmar stood at $1.2bn in 2010, far short of the $4.4bn between China and Myanmar.

Singh, who is travelling with a top-level business delegation, stressed the countries' "shared history and culture" in a statement ahead of the visit.

Myanmar was administered as a province of India during British colonial rule, and the two countries have religious links dating back to the early spread of Buddhism more than 2,000 years ago.


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