Japan may halt aid for Myanmar over fatal shooting

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TOKYO, Oct 3 (Reuters) Japan may suspend some 4.3 million dollars in aid for Myanmar following the crackdown on pro-democracy protests during which one Japanese video journalist was killed, officials said today.

Japan has withheld full-scale aid to impoverished Myanmar since democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in 2003, but it has funded emergency health projects and provided some training and technological transfers.

A senior Japanese government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tokyo was considering suspending its plan to extend 552 million yen in ''human resources development aid'' to Myanmar.

But Japan will maintain its policy of engagement with Myanmar, he said, and Tokyo has no plans at the moment to suspend trade with Myanmar or freeze the country's assets.

''While maintaining the policy of engagement, we should try to persuade them to move towards democracy,'' the official said. ''In that context, Japan has a role to play.'' Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, 50, was shot dead when the military opened fire on crowds of protesters in Yangon last week.

Footage smuggled out of the country appeared to show a soldier shooting Nagai at point-blank range, but Myanmar officials told a Japanese envoy on Monday that he was shot accidentally.

Japan has provided a total of about 3 billion yen in aid annually in recent years, down from 10 billion in 2001.

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said the government would consider a further cutback in aid to Yangon.

''We have been limiting economic aid to humanitarian assistance, but we want to think about limiting it further,'' Komura told reporters.

''We cannot stop aid that benefits the public directly, such as that to fight polio, but we want to consider stopping assistance such as human resources development centres for now, even though they benefit the public in the long run.'' Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mitsuo Sakaba said that Tokyo might consider additional punitive measures after seeing the response of the international community, particularly the United Nations.

Sakaba expressed displeasure with Myanmar's military government for its handling of the journalist's death.

Tokyo says the small video camera Nagai was clutching as he died near the Sule Pagoda was missing from personal items returned by Myanmar officials.

''With respect to Mr Nagai's case, we don't think that they have given us explanations and responses that satisfy us,'' he told reporters.

The body of the Japanese journalist was expected to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday. Japanese police plan to carry out an autopsy this week.

REUTERS SKB BD1545

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