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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 March 2006, 18:00 GMT
India signs Burma gas agreement
By Jill McGivering
BBC News

Indian President APJ Kalam (left) and Burmese head of state Gen Than Shwe (r)
Indian President Kalam (left) and Burmese leader Gen Than Shwe
Burma and India have agreed a long-term plan to supply Burmese natural gas to India, reports from Rangoon say.

The signing came during the landmark three-day visit to Burma of India's President, APJ Abdul Kalam.

He is the first Indian president to visit the country, a move that signals India's growing determination to foster closer economic ties with Burma.

But as a democracy, India does face pressures about doing business with Burma's military-led government.

'Look East'

This latest agreement paves the way for the building of a pipeline, to carry natural gas from Burma to India, either via India's north-east states or via Bangladesh.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi walks with friends and family
India supports the release of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Indian politicians have actively pursued Rangoon in recent years as part of their determination to "look east" in the search for new markets and much-needed natural resources.

India is also sensitive to its competition for energy with China, as both countries fuel their fast-growing economies.

China agreed a similar gas supply deal with Rangoon last year. Some in India were anxious about being left behind.

Indian officials have defended their decision to strengthen ties, arguing it's important for India to stay engaged with Burma.

But India officially supports multi-party democracy in Burma and the release of opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Its eagerness to strike deals with the current government, including military co-operation, is criticised by those opposed to the regime and concerned about its human rights record.

The delegation also signed agreements on Burmese access to an Indian satellite and on education. There are also plans for a future rail link between India and Burma, possibly through India's north-east.

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