Burma activist sees positive signs from Japan

Oct 16, 2009 (DVB), The new Japanese government may be more sympathetic to Burma's opposition than previous administrations, according to a Burmese activist who met with Japan's deputy foreign minister this week.

Japan's stance on Burma is to call for transparency in the 2010 elections and the release of all political prisoners, said Maung Maung, secretary for National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) and Free Trade Union (FTU).

He met with Japan's deputy foreign minister Tesuro Fukuyama in Tokyo on Wednesday. This followed a recent meeting between Japanese envoys and National League for Democracy (NLD) member Win Tin in Rangoon.

"This is morally supportive for us," Maung Maung said. "This shows that they politically accept and support the Burmese opposition and are keeping their eyes and ears open for a democratic change in Burma. I see that this government more promising than the previous government."

He said however that Japanese officials had recently met with Burma's foreign minister and stated that no policy change was on the horizon.

"Policy change doesn't always immediately follow a government change… so they may have to go through steps such as reviewing [policy] first," he said.

The Democratic Party of Japan was sworn into government in September after more than 50 years of rule by the centre-right Liberal Democratic Party, whose occasional soft rhetorical condemnation of the Burmese regime attracted criticism from pro-democracy campaigners.

A letter sent by Human Rights Watch to the new government last month urged it to "make human rights a central pillar of Japanese foreign policy, and Burma is a good place to start."

The letter said that Japan’s policy toward Burma to date, which has focused on dialogue and aid, "has done little to improve human rights and in some cases has even been counterproductive".

Relations soured between the two countries in 2007 following the shooting by Burmese troops of Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai during the September 2007 monk-led uprising.

Japan blocked aid to Burma following the incident, but resumed in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis in May last year.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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