Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Campaigners unhappy over Japan’s support to junta

Monday, 16 March 2009 19:51

New Delhi (Mizzima) - The Japanese government has provided election training to Burmese officials, as the Southeast Asian Nation gears up for its general elections in 2010, sources said.

The training on how to conduct an election was given to five Burmese military officials by Japan as part of its support to the junta’s seven-step roadmap to democracy, of which the general election is the fifth step.

Yuki Akimoto, a Japanese activist with the Burma Information Network (Japan) told Mizzima on Monday that she was aware of the training given to the Burmese officials by the Japanese government.

“I am aware that Japan hosted a training facility on how to conduct elections to five officers from the military regime,” said Akimoto, adding that it made her sad to think that Japan is strongly supporting the regime’s election.

The news of Japan’s secret training came as a not-so-surprising fact to Burma observers as Japan has maintained its support towards the Burmese military regime’s roadmap to democracy.

Akimoto said, Japan has encouraged the Burmese junta to conduct a free and fair election and believes that it could bring about a change in Burma through the process.

But she argues that Japan, being Asia’s strongest democracy, should give a closer look at the Junta’s 2008 constitution and urged for a more inclusive process.

Japan, which has created little pressure regarding the junta’s behaviour, voiced its concern over the appalling human rights situation in Burma, when a Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai was killed by the military during its crackdown on monk-led peaceful demonstrations in September 2007.

But the Japanese mission to probe the killing of Nagai has revealed little facts and has been left without any official announcement on the punishment to the perpetrator.

Fellow journalists around the world, including press freedom groups, have called on the Japanese government to press Burma to reveal the truth about Nagai’s killing and to take effective action on the perpetrators.

Against this backdrop, Japan has maintained a ‘Quiet Diplomacy’ and has not made public its dealings with Burma’s military government, said Professor Chosein Yamahata, organiser of an international conference on Burma in the Japanese city of Nagoya during the weekend.

Prof. Yamahata said, Japan prefers to be quiet about its relationship with Burma and does not favour the western style of sanctions or the regional countries approach of constructive engagement.

He said it is partly because there is little information about Burma to convince the Japanese government for a policy review towards Burma.

“This conference aims to highlight awareness for both the Japanese people as well as the government on the situation in Burma,” said Yamahata, referring to a conference, held from March 13 – 15, where several Burma analysts, former ambassadors, academicians and intellectuals gathered.

He said the conference is the first of its kind and organisers plan to continue organising such events in order to raise further awareness on Burma.

Japan’s role

Japan, which has been providing Burma in recent years about 3 billion Yen (approximately US $ 18.2 million) in aid, is Burma’s biggest donor. Most of the aids are given in the form of human resources development aid.

But Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, who was in Nagoya for the conference, said Japan could play a significant role in the process of change in Burma.

He said, Japan is the only country in Asia that can balance the power of China, and is also a member of the Security Council.

But he said the Japanese government’s policy towards Burma is deteriorating in terms of support towards the democracy movement. And Japan seems to be endorsing the junta’s planned 2010 election, which is part of the roadmap that will cement military rule in Burma.

Farmaner added that there is also a lack of awareness among the Japanese people regarding the situation in Burma that could act as a pressure on its government.

Japan’s reluctance

One factor for the Japanese government to maintain its support to Burma’s military rulers is the lack of proper information that could make Japan see the situation in Burma genuinely, Farmaner said.

Akimoto said, there is little media coverage in Japan on Burma, and the Japanese government relies on its embassy in Rangoon for most of its information.

She said, Japan is also reluctant to engage with opposition members but prefers dealing with officials, which leaves its Burma policy at a distance from the reality.

“I think it is really important that the Japanese government expand its source of information [on Burma],” Farmaner said.

Besides, he said, the Japanese people need to be aware of the situation in Burma so as to be able to pressure its government’s policy.

“So far, I don’t think the Japanese government is facing any kind of pressure from its people to change its policy on Burma,” he added.

He said, while in Japan, he along with fellow activists are planning to meet Japanese parliamentarians, the foreign ministry and other civil society groups to raise awareness on the situation in Burma. 

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