Copyrighted material


by Mutsuko Murakami

on Burma's bloody crackdown

(IPS) -- While the video footage of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai dying on the streets of Rangoon, as soldiers fired on demonstrating monks and civilians on Oct. 27, may trigger drastic cuts in aid to Burma from its biggest donor Japan, the ruling junta is unlikely to be moved.

In fact, the planned cuts are not expected to be anywhere near the strict sanctions imposed on Burma by the United States and other western countries.

'Japan needs action to demonstrate protest," a source at the foreign ministry told IPS. 'But the Japanese government does not want to shake the junta too harshly either,' he hastened to add.

On Thursday, foreign minister Masahiko Komura renewed his pledge of punitive action after getting a first-hand assessment of the situation from his deputy Mitoji Yabunaka, who had flown to Rangoon to investigate Nagai's death and meet with military leaders. "We have already limited our economic assistance to humanitarian projects, but we will screen them carefully again," Komura told presspersons.

Japan, which generously provided aid to Burma over decades, imposed cuts in 2003 when pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. Yet, during 2006, Japan's grants amounted to 1.35 billion yen ($11.1 million), besides technical assistance worth 1.73 billion yen ($14 million).

Historically, the financial flow goes back to the two-billion-dollar war reparations paid by Japan to Burma for having invaded the country during World War II. Gen. Ne Win, who engineered a coup in 1962, successfully developed pro-Burma sentiments among Japanese leaders and reaped huge aid programs. Japan was among the first countries that approved the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), set up by the military junta that seized power in 1988.

Komura said he would not cut humanitarian aid linked directly to the people of Burma, such as for polio prevention and treatment, but planned to cancel a 550-milion-yen ($4.7 million) project to building a training center at Rangoon University.

Japan's aid to Burma has been criticized by pro-democracy activists who say it helps secure natural gas and promotes business opportunities. In fact, dozens of Japanese corporations and companies -- ranging from banks, hotel operators to traders and manufacturers -- do business in Burma thanks to the goodwill of the military rulers.

Some top government leaders who worry about Burma's close tie with China have cautioned against going down the path to sanctions.

When Burma is developing close ties with China, should Japan go hand in hand with western nations in favour of sanctions, asked chief cabinet secretary Nobutaka Machimura last week. "Is it good if Myanmar (the name used by the junta for Burma) should come closer only to China because of that?"

According to a report released last week by a research group from the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) economic sanctions will have little effect on Burma. "Burma will not have an economic crisis," conceded the report, pointing to support from China and foreign exchange earnings from export of natural gas the price of which is rising.

One official admits that as Japan has already cut economic and technology assistance new action will have little impact. "Now that we have already suspended yen loans, we will not be able to have effective results anyway," he told IPS.

Adding to the pressure on the government has been demonstrations by Burmese people living in Japan urging action and protests by ordinary Japanese horrified by Nagai's gruesome death, the video of which has been repeatedly aired over TV channels.

No less than 10 broadcasting companies issued an appeal early this week to the Burmese government about Nagai's death. "We strongly demand no hindrance or oppression should be made on journalists of any nationality seeking truth," it reads.

Nagai, who worked for the Tokyo-based APF News, was shown facing a pitiless military attack while hanging onto his video camera and continuing to use it as he fell. He was taken away by several soldiers and the camera apparently confiscated.

There were more poignant scenes when Nagai's body landed in Japan. "Kenbo (Nagai's pet name), oh poor Kenbo, you came back like this," cried his old mother, peering at his face through a little window cut into his coffin. His father stood up bravely from his wheelchair and stared at his face, muttering a few words.

Japanese police announced after an autopsy that Nagai had been shot from behind, with the bullet damaging his liver and causing fatal bleeding. They found no evidence that he was hit from close range but more investigations are being conducted.

The Japan Buddhist Federation has also callied for immediate release of imprisoned monks and civilians. "As the same (kind of) Buddhists as the Myanmar people, we are in deep resentment and sadness at the report of many deaths, including (that of) a Japanese, and the injured or imprisoned," it says.

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Albion Monitor   October 8, 2007   (

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