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Japan offers Myanmar foreign aid, meets Suu Kyi

world Updated: Dec 26, 2011 22:02 IST
Japan's foreign minister

Japan's foreign minister agreed with Myanmar on Monday to start talks on a bilateral investment pact, while calling on the isolated nation to free more political prisoners and meeting pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar's new and nominally civilian government, which took power in March, has begun implementing political reforms and re-engaging with the global community after decades of tight military rule.

President Thein Sein has been implementing changes aimed at encouraging the lifting of decades of Western sanctions over human rights abuses and attracting much-needed foreign investment in the country, formerly known as Burma.

Japanese foreign minister Koichiro Gemba called on his counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, to free more political prisoners and ensure that upcoming by-elections are fairly run, Kyodo said. The two met in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw.

Gemba also met opposition icon Suu Kyi on Monday and asked her to visit Japan in the near future, Kyodo said, adding that it was the first visit to Myanmar by a Japanese foreign minister in nine years.

Suu Kyi asked for Japan's support for Myanmar as it proceeds with its transition to democracy, Kyodo said.

Myanmar is the only country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) with which Japan has not inked investment pacts. These treaties typically reduce barriers to companies investing in factories and to corporate acquisitions.

Myanmar's army, which has ruled the former British colony for half a century, handed over power in March to the civilian president - a retired general.

In a landmark step, US President Barack Obama decided last month to open the door to expanded ties with Myanmar, saying he saw potential for progress in a country until recently seen as an isolated military dictatorship firmly aligned with China.

That decision was followed soon after by a visit to Myanmar by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.