India’s new army chief on Monday called a bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military junta against pro-democracy protests an “internal matter.”

India’s army, which is battling numerous insurgencies in the remote northeast bordering Myanmar, favours a “good relationship” with the military junta, said army chief Deepak Kapoor, who took charge on Sunday.

“We have a good relationship going with Myanmar and I am sure we will try and maintain that,” Kapoor told reporters in New Delhi, adding the turmoil in Myanmar was “an internal matter.”

The statement came a week after the United States tightened sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers and urged countries like China and India to do more to help end the crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.

New Delhi has been criticised for its low-key reaction to the authoritarian regime’s brutal suppression of the month-long protests.

At least 13 people were killed last week during protests led by the highly influential Buddhist monks.

Meanwhile, an Indian opposition-led protest in New Delhi urged the government to “raise its voice” in support of the pro-democracy movement.

“All the countries are asking us why India is not saying or doing anything. We demand that the government stand up and speak (for democracy) with courage,” said former defence minister George Fernandes.

He was flanked by activists waving placards reading “India, speak up for Burma!” (Myanmar’s former name) and “Attacks on monks are an attack on humanity.”

Others chanted “Long live Aung San Suu Kyi,” carrying photographs of the detained democracy icon.

Fernandes was joined by refugees from Myanmar, swelling the protesters’ numbers to about 450, according to the police. There are around 2,000 refugees from the country in New Delhi.

India last week expressed “concern” and urged dialogue to resolve differences between the junta and the pro-democracy protesters. It also called for accelerating the process of “broad-based national reconciliation and political reform.”

But analysts say India is walking a diplomatic tightrope, juggling energy and strategic concerns with a commitment to democracy.

India, which rolled out the red carpet for military strongman Than Shwe in a 2004 visit, was until the mid-1990s a staunch supporter of Suu Kyi.

New Delhi kept the military junta at arms length after the 1988 crackdown on democracy protests, but changed track when it decided its security interests in the northeast were in jeopardy.

Since India began engaging the generals, there has been cooperation between Indian and Myanmar’s security forces in flushing out the northeastern rebels.

Fali S. Nariman, an Indian constitutional expert at the protest, criticised what he described as “security achieved through suppression of human rights.”

“When human rights of a people are involved you cannot dismiss it as an internal matter… Aung San Suu Kyi has become a legend. She has become a second (Nelson) Mandela,” he said, referring to the South African freedom leader.

Besides security, India is also vying with China and other Asian countries for a share of Myanmar’s vast energy resources — triggering accusations that it is weakening US and European economic sanctions.