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President Thein Sein on Saturday became the first of Burma’s leaders to visit the tomb of his country’s last king, who was exiled to India more than a century ago.
The president paid homage at the run-down tomb of King Thibaw in the western Indian coastal city of Ratnagiri and met the late monarch’s descendants.
“The meeting was marked by emotion,” a local official told the Press Trust of India news agency, adding the president also invited the king’s descendants to visit Burma during the two-hour visit.
The Burma leader travelled by helicopter to Ratnagiri from Mumbai, which lies some 330 kilometres (200 miles) away.
Thibaw’s reign ended in 1885 with his defeat by British colonial forces, who sent him and his family into exile in Ratnagiri, where he died.
A Burma official told AFP on Friday that the president was the first leader to visit Thibaw’s grave.
Thibaw’s defeat in the Third Anglo-Burmese War marked the end of centuries of royal rule, and the country — also known as Burma — remained part of the British empire until 1948.
Thibaw and his wife Supayalat were given an impressive residence in exile, although they could not venture far beyond the house, said Thant Myint-U, author of “The River of Lost Footsteps”, a history of Burma.
The former monarch died aged 57 in 1916, shortly after suffering a heart attack.
After the king’s death, some of the family returned to Burma while others remained in India.
Before Thein Sein’s visit, Thant Myint-U said it was symbolically significant.
“The king was the very centre of the old state. It (his defeat) was the overthrow of a thousand-year-old monarchy but also the complete destruction of the old system of governance and aristocracy.”
Burma fell under military rule in 1962 with army leaders evoking the power of pre-colonial kings.
Former general Thein Sein, who since becoming civilian president in 2011 has overseen a huge reform drive in Burma, visited the grave following two days of official talks with regional leaders in New Delhi and Mumbai.
The Indian government is planning to spruce up Thibaw’s run-down grave, a Burma website reported earlier in the week, citing discussions between the two countries.