Thursday, December 15, 2011

Japanese development aid to resume?

Thursday, 15 December 2011 12:07 Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Japan may resume funding development projects in Burma after an 8-year halt, in light changes taking place in the country.

Koichiro-Gemba-and-Wunna-Maung-LwinForeign Affairs Minister Koichiro Gemba will arrive on a three-day visit on December 25 to talk with high-level government officials and opposition group members, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 2003, after the Depayin Massacre, Japan suspended development aid to Burma in response to the killings and the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. Japan also suspended aid for the renovation of the Lawpita No. 2 hydropower plant, but it continued to provide humanitarian aid.

The foreign-based Federation of Trade Unions of Burma patron Dr. Min Nyo told Mizzima that Japan officials would be looking carefully at the health and education sectors during their visit.

“They will also look at the condition of the Lawpita hydro power plant to decide which part of the station should be repaired,” said Min Nyo, who lives in Japan. He said the FM will also meet President Thein Sein, Foreign Affairs Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and ethnic leaders.

The Japan-based “The Mainichi Daily News” reported that during Burmese Foreign Affairs Minister Wunna Maung Lwin’s visit to Japan in October, the Japanese government said it would provide aid for the renovation of Lawpita hydropower plant No. 2 in Karenni State.

Min Myo said his trade union would not object to renewed development aid because Aung San Suu Kyi and opposition groups are now involved in Burmese politics, but he urged Japan to scrutinize whether the authorities use the money effectively and to also help promote the trade of farm products.

Koichiro Gemba, an MP in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party, said that during his visit to Burma he would invite opposition group party members to visit Japan after Burma’s by-elections, according to the “The Mainichi Daily News.”

“Japan is hoping to step up the momentum of the transition to democratic governance and national reconciliation,” the newspaper said.

Members of Japan’s Upper House Commission on development aid will visit Burma in early 2012.

In other areas, the two countries are negotiating on the issue of Burma’s debt to Japan, which has provided a total of 211.9 million U.S. dollars as of November 2011, ranking 12th in Burma’s foreign investors’ line-up, according to a story by the China-based Xinhua news agency on Tuesday.

Gemba's visit will be the first by a top Japanese official since former Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi visited in 2002.

Gemba, who is also a Democratic Party Lower House MP, was appointed Foreign Minister in September 2011. He will also visit Thailand and Cambodia.

According to information compiled by the Burma Rivers Network, the Lawpita Hydropower Project in Karenni State was initiated in 1950 with a bilateral war reparation agreement between Japan and Burma. Mobye dam was built on the Balu Chaung River to store water to supply two hydroelectric power stations. Lawpita was the first large-scale hydropower project in Burma. The project today represents 24 percent of Burma’s total hydropower capacity and is an important source of electricity for Rangoon and Mandalay.

The Lawpita Hydropower Plant No.2 was the first power station to become operational. The first phase of construction on Plant No.2 was completed in 1960, and the second phase was completed in 1974. It has a capacity of 168 megawatts with six generators.

Only a few towns in Karenni State are supplied with power, which is often unreliable. About 80 per cent of the total population in the state still has no access to electric power.

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