Japan to send envoy to Myanmar to probe death - PM

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TOKYO, Sep 28 (Reuters) Japan will send an envoy to Myanmar at the weekend to investigate the killing of a Japanese video journalist during anti-government protests, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda today said.

The new Japanese leader also spoke with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao by telephone, urging Beijing, Myanmar's closest ally, to exercise its influence over the military junta.

Fifty-year-old Kenji Nagai was fatally wounded in Yangon on Thursday, and pictures smuggled out of the country showed him clutching a camera as he lay dying.

''It is truly unfortunate. It is very sad that Mr Nagai has died,'' Fukuda told reporters. ''The situation must be resolved quickly.

''Mr Yabunaka of the Foreign Ministry will go to Myanmar tomorrow and push for the government to find out the facts.'' No decision has been made on sanctions, he added, saying that the results of envoy Mitoji Yabunaka's investigations would be taken into account in deciding the best course of action.

Fukuda also discussed the situation with Wen. ''I asked that China, given its close ties with Myanmar, exercise its influence and Premier Wen said he will make such efforts,'' Fukuda told reporters.

Fukuda said he had seen photographs, but that he was not sure whether the shooting was deliberate or at close range, as some Japanese media reported.

It was not clear whether Nagai was working officially or not. Myanmar rarely issues working visas to journalists, and Yangon's embassies around the world are known to keep blacklists of reporters who are routinely refused even tourist visas.

Quoting embassy doctors who examined the body on Thursday, Machimura said the bullet that killed Nagai had passed from the right side of his chest through the heart and back.

Japan's Foreign Ministry on Friday issued a warning to Japanese media organisations to avoid sending staff to Myanmar, and to keep those already in the country away from dangerous areas.

TOO SOFT A STANCE? Nagai is the first foreign victim of the protests that began as sporadic marches against fuel price hikes but have swelled over the past month into mass demonstrations against 45 years of military rule in the country, which is also known as Burma.

''We are greatly concerned ... and are urging Myanmar's government to take immediate steps to end this situation peacefully and through dialogue,'' Kyodo quoted Japanese diplomat Kenichiro Sasae as saying in Beijing.

Japan has been criticised in the past for not taking a hard line on Myanmar's military government, and today a Japanese opposition leader urged his country's leaders to speak out.

''Now is the time for the Japanese government to lead the international community and ask the military junta to fulfill its responsibility and immediately end this bloody tragedy,'' said opposition Democratic Party Secretary-General Yukio Hatoyama.

''I also pray that the political prisoners, including Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, will be released immediately and that Burma will become a democratic country soon,'' Hatoyama said.

Tokyo has withheld new aid to impoverished Myanmar since democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in 2003, but it still funds emergency health projects and provides some training and technological transfers.

Japan has provided a total of about 3 billion yen (26 million dollar) in aid annually in recent years, compared with 10 billion in 2001.

There are 615 Japanese nationals and 74 Japanese companies in Myanmar, Machimura yesterday said.

REUTERS SS HT1837

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