Tory leader follows Burmese general on the Delhi trail

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The Independent Online

Burma's top military general began a five-day visit to India yesterday for talks aimed at deepening ties between the two South Asian neighbours. Pro-democracy advocates protested his arrival and promised to step up their demonstrations.

Burma's Senior General Than Shwe is scheduled to hold discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior figures in New Delhi, as well as to sign a slew of cooperation agreements to combat drug-trafficking, smuggling and terrorist activities across the India-Burma border. His first stop after his arrival was the eastern Indian Buddhist hub in Gaya. He then travelled to visit Buddhist temples in nearby Kushinagar.

Scores of pro-democracy activists held a demonstration in New Delhi yesterday to protest the military junta's efforts to snuff out democracy in Burma, and to express their dismay over the Indian invitation to the junta chief.

Members of the All Burma Monks Alliance and the All Burma Students League gathered in a central Delhi park, shouting pro-democracy slogans before dispersing peacefully. They said they will step up protests on Tuesday, when General Than Shwe is scheduled to meet Mr Singh for talks.

After many years of supporting the democratic movement in Burma led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, India switched tracks to reach out to the military regime for help in tracking insurgents from India's restive north-eastern states, who often seek shelter in the dense jungles straddling the border.

India has established deep economic and military ties with Burma's generals over the past decade, and has said it believes talking quietly is a better approach than sanctions.

New Delhi's overtures have also grown as concerns have mounted in India over China's increasing influence in Burma. The country's extensive natural gas reserves, are also an attraction for India, a major fuel importer.