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India welcomes Myanmar military leader

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
  • Gen. Than Shwe is on a five-day trip to India
  • The countries have strong diplomatic and economic ties
  • Bilateral trade between India and Myanmar has soared to almost $1 billion
  • The junta leader's visit comes after U.S. asks India and other neighbors to push for reform
  • Myanmar
  • India

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Indian officials welcomed the top leader of Myanmar's military junta Sunday in a visit aimed at strengthening diplomatic and economic ties between the neighboring countries.

Gen. Than Shwe is on a five-day trip to India, where he is scheduled to tour sacred Buddhist sites, greet Indian officials at a ceremonial reception in the presidential palace and visit the shrine to Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi before holding talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

In 1951, the two nations signed what they called a "treaty of friendship," and over the past few years, bilateral trade has soared to almost $1 billion, according to Indian officials.

Several Indian companies have invested in Myanmar's energy sector. And India's main space agency has helped set up a data-processing center in Yangon for remote-sensing applications, India's external affairs ministry says.

The visit comes several days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged India and other countries in the region to push Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to comply with UN human rights resolutions and nuclear nonproliferation agreements.

"It is critical that Burma hear from you, its neighbors," she said in a speech at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional meeting.

Clinton described life in Myanmar as "dangerous" for the country's inhabitants and urged other nations to push for democratic reforms there.

"We would encourage India and other countries to send a clear message to Burma that it needs to change its course," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

The military general's itinerary also includes tours of the India's information-technology hub in Hyderabad and the industrial center in Jamshedpur.

His visit is the second by a top junta administrator in a year.