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Japan's Aid to Burma Criticized Amid Global Calls for Release of Opposition Leader


While world leaders and human rights groups criticize Burma for extending the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, special attention is being paid to the position of Japan, which is one of the world's largest donors of aid to Burma. Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo.

While the European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Burma, and the United Nations has condemned it for its refusal to enact democratic reforms, Japan remains one of Burma's largest aid donors.

According to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country gave Burma $27 million in aid in 2005, making it one of the country's largest aid donors.

Burma's military rulers have been under renewed international pressure in recent weeks to release the country's pro-democracy leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest. She has been detained for 11 of the past 17 years.

Maung Min Nya, the head of the Burma Office, an activist group based in Japan, says Japanese aid is not benefiting the Burmese people.

"The humanitarian aids given by Japanese government, it doesn't reach to the people, just only, you know, it reached to the military only," he said.

He says Japanese companies should stop doing business with Burma, because it only helps the military leaders.

At a recent international conference in Tokyo on Burma, lawmakers from six Southeast Asian countries, rights activists and Burmese exiles called for political reforms in the country.

Japan says it has chosen aid over sanctions as a way to push for democracy in Burma, and says it will continue funding humanitarian projects because of worsening living conditions there. The Japanese government says it is concerned about the political situation however, and has called for the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Last week, 59 former heads of state and government issued an open letter to the Burmese military junta calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate release. The signatories included several former U.S. presidents, two former British prime ministers, and former leaders of many Asian countries. One of those who signed was former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

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