Burmese Minister: Japan to Review Suspended Development Projects

Posted October 24th, 2011 at 4:45 am (UTC-5)
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Burma's foreign minister says Japan has agreed to send experts to Burma to determine the feasibility of re-starting a number of suspended development projects.

Wunna Maung Lwin told VOA's Burmese service that the countries have also agreed to reciprocal visits by government officials and politicians. The foreign minister was interviewed in Bangkok on his way home from meetings in Tokyo last week.

Wunna Maung Lwin said the sides discussed how to allocate and implement Japanese development assistance to Burma, which was suspended after the imprisonment of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003.

He said the talks on development assistance will continue. Japan, which was once Burma's biggest aid donor, restored some development aid in June, and Japan's foreign ministry said at the time that the amount could be increased if political prisoners are released.

Japanese press reports say Tokyo is eyeing Burma as a possible source of rare earth minerals, which are vital to the production of many products in Japan's high-tech economy.

Wunna Maung Lwin also discussed Burma's bid to serve as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014. He did not directly address complaints from human rights groups that Burma does not deserve the honor because of its treatment of political prisoners, the media and others. But he said Burma has been studying the experiences of other countries in chairing ASEAN.

He also promised that Burma would provide accurate information to the world media during the ASEAN summit.

Wunna Maung Lwin insisted that the new Burmese government, which took office at the end of March, is sincere in its efforts to bring democratic reform and transparency to the country, which still holds about 2,000 political prisoners and jails critics for complaining about the government.

But he railed against Western sanctions, saying they are ineffective and politically motivated and designed to make ordinary people suffer so they will rise up against the government.

Burma's new government, which replaced a long-ruling military government, still is dominated by current and former military officers and their allies. But it has taken a number of tentative steps to open a dialogue with its critics, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to ease its tight media censorship.

Earlier this month, it released about 200 political prisoners as part of a mass prisoner release.