Saturday, November 7, 2009

Japan urges Myanmar to release Suu Kyi before poll

By Yoko Nishikawa

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan urged Myanmar on Saturday to release detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before next year's election, adding it was ready to provide more aid if democratisation in the country advanced.

The comments came a few days after a U.S. delegation made a landmark visit to Myanmar as part of a new policy of engagement by the Obama administration.

"It is extremely important that Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners are all released before the general election to be held in 2010," Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told Myanmar's visiting prime minister, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Hatoyama also urged General Thein Sein to ensure all stakeholders could take part in the election.

Japan has distanced itself from the policy of Western powers, which have imposed tough sanctions on Myanmar, and from that of China, which has pumped billions of dollars into the country.

It has prefered engagement and dialogue to push for democratisation of the authoritarian military-run state, and welcomed Washington's recent move, saying it was getting closer to Tokyo's approach.

The talk between Hatoyama and General Thein Sein took place on the sidelines of the Tokyo summit among Japan and five Mekong region countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

It was the first time since 2003 a Myanmar leader had visited Japan.

Hatoyama acknowledged signs of improvement in the democratisation process in the country formerly known as Burma, and welcomed improving ties between Washington and Myanmar.

"Based on recent positive moves, Japan will gradually expand its assistance to Myanmar in areas of humanitarian assistance, including those through NGOs, and human development assistance," Hatoyama was quoted as telling General Thein Sein.

"If the general election in 2010 is conducted in a manner we expect, Japan will be in a position to strengthen its assistance to Myanmar," he added.

In the fiscal year that ended in March 2008, Japan provided 1.18 billion yen ($13.13 million) in grant aid and 1.64 billion yen in technical assistance to Myanmar.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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