Road building has been the cause of delay because there are law and order challenges in the region, said Jaishankar

Guwahati: Law and order challenges is one of the reasons for the delay in the completion of India’s flagship Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP), External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Monday in Guwahati.

He expressed hope that the military coup in Myanmar would not hamper India’s developmental projects in the neighbouring country.

“Road building has been the cause of delay because there are law and order challenges in the region. But we are confident that we will be able to push it through,” Jaishankar said answering a query from EastMojo on the delay in the KMTTP.

He explained how KMTTP is being constructed in a “very very difficult” part of Myanmar and how there are logistical challenges. External Affairs Minister said how some parts of the project like the Sittwe port and the inland waterway terminal at Paletwa have been completed.

Jaishankar addressed the press on the sidelines of a programme on Act East Policy in Guwahati during his two-day visit to Assam with a Japanese delegation including Japan’s envoy Satoshi Suzuki.

“Some projects move faster, some slower. You learn something and get better at it. I believe we are in the last sort of that push,” Jaishankar said.

The KMTTP, a $484 million grant-in-aid project by India—aimed at ushering in development in Mizoram, Chin and strife-torn Rakhine State, opening up more avenues for trade and business, besides shoring up connectivity with India’s Northeast and giving it an additional outlet to the sea— has been marred by delays.

In January, Indian envoy to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar told Eleven Media Group that the “(Sittwe) port is ready and should be operational in the first quarter of next year once dredging, and that of the waterway is completed, and necessary licences are in place. Work on Paletwa-Zorinpui road is underway and is likely to take some more time.”

The completion of this road is critical to the execution of the project.

While EAM Jaishankar did not go into the details of the “law and order challenges”, it was likely a reference to the conflict between the Arakan Army, an armed group active in the Rakhine and the Chin states of Myanmar and the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military.

The separatist AA, which claims to be fighting for greater self-governance, was designated an unlawful terrorist group by the Myanmar government in January 2020.

Indian strategic affairs experts reckon that the emergence of the AA in Rakhine since 2016 and the ARSA, the Rohingya militant group have complicated the execution of the KMTTP.

There have been instances of the AA targeting material meant for the project. In November 2019, five Indians working on the Paletwa-Zorinpui road, along with five others including a Myanmar MP were abducted by the AA. While four Indians were released the next day, Vinoo Gopal died of a heart attack in their custody.

AA had then released a statement and claimed that the group was taken to land for investigations and said that it was not against development projects which benefit the locals, but those travelling in violence-hit Rakhine should inform the outfit. The AA apologised for the death of Vinoo Gopal, who passed away because of a heart attack.

According to reports, India suspects the Chinese of providing arms to the outfit. That the AA became active in Rakhine soon after the Chinese bagged the contract to develop a deep seaport in Kyaukpyu had strengthened the suspicion of a Chinese hand behind the AA.

Meanwhile, hostilities between the AA and the Tatmadaw have ceased since November after the Japanese brokered a temporary ceasefire.

India had welcomed the development. “The improvement of the situation in Rakhine State is a positive development. I do hope that the issues there would be resolved peacefully through dialogue,” Ambassador Kumar told Eleven Media Group in the January interview.

“Economic growth and development is important for the Rakhine State and we are engaging with the government of Myanmar to contribute towards this,” Kumar added.

Besides the KMTTP, India has pledged $25 million each to Rakhine and Chin under the Border Area Development programmes.

The fragile peace in Myanmar could unravel with the recent political upheaval and the military ceasing power. India has been cautious in its reaction.

In Guwahati, EAM Jaishankar said he was hopeful that it would not affect the developmental projects. “These are early days, but we see development projects as addressing the needs of people. The needs of the people are still the needs of the people. So I very much hope that development projects are not affected,” he said.

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