Japan cancels Myanmar grant; envoy appeals


YANGON, Myanmar — Japan canceled a multimillion dollar grant to Myanmar to protest the junta’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, as a U.N. envoy pressed Asian nations Tuesday to take the lead in resolving the Myanmar crisis. Japan, Myanmar’s largest aid donor, had earlier said it would suspend some assistance in response to the death of video journalist Kenji Nagai, among at least 10 people killed when troops fired into crowds of peaceful protesters during the Sept. 26-27 crackdown.

Video footage of Nagai’s death appeared to show a soldier shooting the journalist at close range on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. A commentary in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper Sunday blamed Nagai for having “invited danger” by attending the protests.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the government was canceling a grant worth 552 million yen (US$4.7 million; euro3.3 million) for a business education center, slated for the Yangon University campus.

Machimura said the decision was made in response to the crackdown and followed a U.N. statement condemning the violence.

In 2005, Japan provided grants totaling 1.3 billion yen (US$11.2 million; euro7.9 million) and 1.7 billion yen (US$14.7 million; euro10.3 million) in technology assistance, according to the latest ministry figures.

The U.N. Security Council issued its first-ever statement on Myanmar last week, condemning the clampdown and calling for the release of all political prisoners.

The junta has been rounding up suspected dissidents since protests started in August. Several thousand are believed to have been detained, including Buddhist monks who led the protests.

Myanmar’s state media has had no articles criticizing the government, instead carrying commentaries denigrating the protesters and other junta critics. In an effort to allay public anger over the mistreatment of monks, the New Light of Myanmar published two stories Tuesday about donations by members of the military and their families to monasteries.

However, at least one senior abbot at a monastery in Yangon has reportedly refused to accept alms from officials, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma, a shortwave radio station and Web site run by dissident Myanmar journalists in Norway.

Some monks started a religious boycott of the junta last month, symbolized by holding their black begging bowls upside down as they marched, after monks were roughed up during a peaceful protest march in the northern town of Pakkoku. A 90-year-old monk, Thaminsar Sayadaw, in Yangon’s Thayet township has continued to honor the boycott this month, according to DVB.

U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was in Malaysia on Tuesday, the second stop in a six-nation tour to coordinate Asian governments’ efforts to help resolve the crisis.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told him that the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations would fully support Gambari’s negotiation efforts, but ruled out sanctions against the junta.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, one of Washington’s top diplomats in Asia, said that China and the ASEAN should use their influence to help fix the “atrocious situation” in Myanmar.

Global calls have intensified for countries that do business with Myanmar to use their leverage to push the junta toward reform.

The European Union widened its sanctions against Myanmar on Monday, banning imports of timber, gemstones and precious metals. The measures come on top of an existing travel ban on Myanmar officials, an arms embargo and a freeze of Burmese assets.