Jan 18, 2010 (DVB), Japan's foreign minister has urged Burma's military rulers to release detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, adding that aid could be stepped up if elections this year are free.
Katsuya Okada met with his Burmese counterpart, Nyan Win, on Sunday on the sidelines of a gathering of foreign ministers from Asia and Latin America.
According to the Japanese foreign ministry website, Okada said that Suu Kyi and Burma's 2,100 political prisoners should be released prior to the elections, although the Burmese junta is yet to announce a date.
Japanese aid to Burma was halted in 2007 following the shooting by Burmese police of Japanese reporter Kenji Nagai, who was covering the September 2007 monk-led uprising.
It was resumed however following cyclone Nargis in May 2008, and Japan that year provided more than $US30 million in aid and technical assistance to Burma.
Tokyo has since maintained close ties with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), despite issuing sporadic calls for it to pay greater attention to human rights.
Nyan Win replied that elections would be free and fair, and that he expected Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party to participate, the foreign ministry said.
The NLD spokesperson, also called Nyan Win, told DVB that the party agrees with Japan's stance.
"[Aung San Suu Kyi] is the most important person in our country and has won support from the international community," he said. "If a person like this is to be locked away when elections are held, then the elections will never be justified as fair."
Suu Kyi's sentencing in August last year to 18 months under house arrest was greeted by critics of the junta as a ploy to keep her out of the political arena until the elections had passed.
Even if she were released before the elections, a clause in the 2008 constitution that prohibits former prisoners from participating looks set to ensure she will play no role.
Reporting by DVB