Indian president heads to Myanmar

Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam headed to Myanmar on Wednesday with the aim of strengthening ties between the neighbors despite Myanmar's continued suppression of democracy there, an official said.

On the top of the agenda was signing a deal to bring natural gas from Myanmar, also known as Burma, to India, Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told reporters ahead of the visit.

India has kept up its close relations with Myanmar despite international calls to isolate the country until the military restores democracy.

Saran said India attached great importance to its ties with Myanmar, which it regarded as a "gateway" to Southeast Asia.

"For various reasons it is important for India and Myanmar to remain engaged," Saran said, adding that India cares about democracy in Myanmar despite its ties to the military government.

Myanmar's military has ruled the country since 1962, and the current junta took over in 1988 after violently suppressing pro-democracy protests.

Saran said India supported the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The pro-democracy leader has spent 10 of the last 16 years in detention and is now under house arrest.

However, India plans to push ahead with plans to strengthen ties with Myanmar.

Saran said the two countries were collaborating in combatting a separatist insurgency in India's remote northeast, which borders Myanmar.

Another agreement will be signed on setting up a ground station in Myanmar for receiving data from an Indian satellite for various uses, such as analyzing soil and minerals for use in agriculture, reports the AP.

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