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Aug 25, 2009 (DVB)-Japan showed signs of disapproval today over the sentencing of Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and urged the ruling junta to quickly release her prior to next year’s elections.
During talks earlier today with Burma’s agriculture minister, Htay Oo, the Japanese foreign minister Hirofumi Nakasone said that Tokyo "strongly expects the swift release of Aung San Suu Kyi".
A statement released by the Japanese foreign ministry following the meeting stressed that Suu Kyi should be able to participate in Burma’s democratic process, likely hinting at her role in the 2010 elections scheduled for March next year.
The leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party was sentenced on 11 August to a further 18 months under house arrest, following the visit in May of US citizen John Yettaw to her Rangoon compound.
Htay Oo, who is also secretary of the controversial pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in Burma, replied that the government "will consider [Suu Kyi’s] early release if she leads a sincere life", according to the statement obtained by AFP.
Japan had previously expressed "deep disappointment" over the sentencing, but has appeared reluctant to take any further action.
Trade between the two countries has continued, despite Burma being subject to far-reaching sanctions from a number of Western countries, including the United States and European Union.
The commments from Japan follow hot on the heels of an agreement between senior Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) officials to urge regional foreign ministers to appeal for Suu Kyi’s release.
If the appeal is approved, it will mark a turning point in ASEAN policy which has so far followed a line of non-interference in domestic matters of member countries.
Although Japan is not a member of ASEAN, which includes Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, as well as Burma, it is party to the wider Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which also includes China and India.
In April, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Japan to "reinvigorate" its Burma policy and make human rights a foreign policy priority, following years of failed "quiet diplomacy".
Reporting by Francis Wade