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Japan renews aid to Burma regime

THE Japanese government will send aid to Burma next month for the first time since the 1988 massacre of pro- democracy demonstrators, despite continuing abuses of human rights and the junta's refusal to release the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest. Although the donation of medical supplies appears innocuous, there are fears that Japan is preparing for closer relations.

Tokyo has watched impatiently as China, South Korea and other states in South-east Asia have forged close links with the Burmese military and business. The Japanese government has made no public announcement, but a Foreign Ministry official said a total of 24m yen ( pounds 152,000) would be spent from the government's Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) budget to help Burma buy an ambulance and medical supplies including anti-malaria drugs.

Technically Japanese aid depends on observance of human rights and a commitment to democratisation in the recipient country. Burma, with hundreds of political prisoners and thousands of forced labourers, would not appear to qualify. But Tokyo fears it is being out- manoeuvred, particularly by China, which has expanded its influence in Burma over the past few years.

The Japanese government is aware of the possible international criticism it may face for resuming aid. For this reason the projects it will be supporting will be low-key ones.

Tokyo's softer stance comes as the US is considering tougher measures against the junta because of human rights abuses and lack of progress in stopping heroin smuggling.

The shift aligns Japan with those states in South-east Asia whose policies of 'constructive engagement' overlook abuses of human rights in the interests of business.

RANGOON - Rebels of the Kachin ethnic minority yesterday signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government, formally ending 32 years of armed rebellion, reports AP.