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Nov 9, 2009 (DVB), Japan is willing to provide more humanitarian aid to Burma but only on condition that detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is released, Tokyo said on Saturday.
The announcement will come as another prod in the back for Burma's military rulers, whom last week hosted a senior-level United States delegation that pressured the generals to ensure democratic reform prior to elections next year.
According to Reuters, Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama made the announcement to his Burmese counterpart, Thein Sein, who was in Tokyo last week to attend a summit of the five Mekong countries. It was the most high-profile trip to Japan by a Burmese government official since 2003.
"Based on recent positive moves, Japan will gradually expand its assistance to Myanmar [Burma] in areas of humanitarian assistance, including those through NGOs, and human development assistance," a foreign ministry spokesperson quoted Hatoyama as saying.
"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."
Hatoyama also urged the junta to release Suu Kyi and Burma's other 2,168 political prisoners prior to the elections.
He also welcomed the shift in US policy to Burma, which will see Washington begin dialogue with the junta following years of isolation.
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 last year provided more than $US30 million in aid and technical assistance to Burma.
The new Democratic Party of Japan was initially met with enthusiasm by Burmese pro-democracy campaigners who had criticized the former centre-right Liberal Democratic Party for failing to pressure the Burmese junta.
Last month however the administration was criticized by Human Rights Watch for its lack of protection for Burmese Rohingya seeking asylum in the country.
The New York-based rights groups complained that many Rohingya seeking asylum in Japan "have been denied refugee status, detained, and issued deportation orders".
It added that the Japanese government "has long been reluctant to exert pressure on Burma’s senior leadership on human rights issues".
Reporting by Francis Wade