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Japan to cut back on aid to Myanmar

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will cut aid to Myanmar following the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests, a newspaper reported on Tuesday, although Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said a decision would not be made before the return of an envoy from the country.

Envoy Mitoji Yabunaka went to Myanmar at the weekend to press for a full inquiry after Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai was shot dead when the military opened fire on crowds of protesters in Yangon last week.

Japan will review the assistance it provides to Myanmar and decide on which aid it will end or temporarily suspend, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said, citing government sources.

Tokyo will also stop sending new humanitarian assistance, it said.

But Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said no decision would be made until Yabunaka returns from Myanmar, where he has met with government officials and is awaiting possible talks with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We will make a decision on how to proceed after Mr Yabunaka has returned and reported to us on his trip,” Komura told reporters. “At this point, nothing has been decided.”

He added that no clear reply had been received from the Myanmar government to the request for a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. Japan has withheld new aid to impoverished Myanmar since 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) in aid annually in recent years, compared with 10 billion in 2001.

The Yomiuri said the latest move could affect long-term assistance programmes such as a human resources development plan, for which 400 million yen is earmarked for the year to next March.

But analysts doubt whether sanctions would have much effect.

“Because Japan has narrowed down its aid from 1988, even if it discontinues the aid, the junta won’t feel much impact,” said Myanmar expert Toshihiro Kudo.

Myanmar’s junta says 10 people, including Nagai, were killed in last week’s crackdown.

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

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

$1=115.71 Yen