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Burmese Official Heads to Japan to Discuss Aid Freeze - 2003-07-02

A senior Burmese official is preparing to head to Tokyo to discuss the new freeze in Japanese aid to Burma. The aid was halted to protest the detention of Burma's foremost democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi. There are reports that the conditions of her detention may have improved.

Japanese officials say Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win will shortly visit Japan to discuss the growing rift between Rangoon and Tokyo over the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Japan, one of the only major countries to provide aid to Rangoon, has slapped a ban on any new assistance to Burma to demonstrate its displeasure over the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.

No final date has been set, but some Japanese media reports suggest Khin Maung Win, who is also a senior aide to Burma's top general Than Shwe, may arrive as early as Friday.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in custody since May 30, when she and her supporters were attacked by a pro-government crowd in northern Burma. At least four people and perhaps many more, were killed and scores injured in the melee. Although she has been periodically placed under house arrest over the years, Western diplomats say this time she was taken Rangoon's infamous Insein jail.

Burmese government officials will only say Aung San Suu Kyi is being held in what they label "protective custody." They have said she will be released, but have given no indication when.

Her detention has sparked an international uproar. New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff told VOA that Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung got an earful of criticism from him and other ministers during a recent meeting in Phnom Penh.

"I conveyed those views personally and strongly to the Burmese foreign minister Win Aung," he said, " along with our expectation that Aung San Suu Kyi should be released immediately… and that the world wanted to see evidence that Burma was moving back towards reconciliation and democracy if it expected in any way cooperation from the international community."

Even the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which is usually reticent about criticizing fellow members, has called on Burma's ruling military government to release her.

The only person allowed to visit her, U.N. Special Envoy Razali Ismail, met her on June 10. He did not reveal where he met her, but, in unusually non-diplomatic language, described the place where she was being held at that time as "absolutely deplorable."

The barrage of criticism may have had some effect. New reports say that that Aung San Suu Kyi was recently transferred out of Insein jail. Although not independently confirmed, separate reports quote unnamed sources in Rangoon as saying she was moved to a new, undisclosed location, probably on Saturday. The government has many guesthouses and military camps in and around the capital where it can detain its opponents.