Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has unveiled a new assistance program to promote the use of information technology in Southeast Asia as part of Japan’s efforts to focus on the IT issue at the Okinawa Group of Eight summit, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Mori announced the plan in talks Friday morning at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence with leaders of member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The ASEAN leaders attended the funeral of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi the previous day.

Under the new program, Japan will provide IT-related knowledge to ASEAN members as they try to enhance the use of IT, the official said.

Japan will beef up assistance for the development of human resources in ASEAN countries to meet the growing need for IT experts.

Tokyo will also help ASEAN members facilitate IT infrastructure, the official said.

Welcoming Japan’s efforts to promote IT in Southeast Asia, Thai Prime Minister Chuan Likphai, representing the association, expressed ASEAN concerns about international trade and economic issues.

Chuan underlined the need to intensify efforts to reform the international financial system and asked Japan to address such views during summit discussion.

Chuan also called on the Group of Seven economies to further liberalize their markets to ASEAN countries, the official said.

Regarding the launch of a new round of trade liberalization negotiations at the World Trade Organization, Chuan reiterated an ASEAN stance that the new round should be well-balanced and take into consideration how developing countries would be affected, the official said.

Other leaders said ASEAN expects Japan’s leaders to express their views at the upcoming G8 summit in Okinawa, the official said.

The leaders were Chuan, Philippine President Joseph Estrada, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Laotian Prime Minister Sisavat Keobounphan, Singaporean Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Manh Cam, Myanmar First Secretary of State Peace and Development Council Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, and Brunei Darussalam Industry and Primary Resources Minister Abdul Rahman.

During a meeting with Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Bustamante and other Latin American envoys at his official residence later in the day, Mori welcomed the re-election of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori but urged Peru to cement democracy, according to another Foreign Ministry official.

“I would like to express my congratulations on President Fujimori’s re-election,” Mori was quoted as saying during the meeting.

Fujimori retained office last month in an election many international observers say was rigged.

Mori said that while Tokyo will continue its aid to the country, it “hopes Peru will continue to pursue and fix democracy,” the official said.

Bustamante said Lima intends to demonstrate the presidential election was “free and fair” by pursuing judicial and other reforms to strengthen the democratic process, the official said.

The meeting was also attended by leaders and representatives from Chile, El Salvador, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua and Saint Lucia.

The Latin American side urged Japan to take up debt relief and other issues related to developing nations when it hosts the G8 summit, the official said.

Mori promised Japan would continue to assist Latin American nations in their reform and democratization efforts, the official said.

In a separate meeting with African envoys, Mori pledged Japan will strive to resolve African issues at the G8 summit.

“As the chair of the G8 summit and Africa’s friend, we will work to resolve problems facing African nations,” Mori was quoted as saying during the meeting.

The African envoys called for Japan’s assistance in dealing with poverty, debt and conflict on the continent, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

The African participants were Cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders from Kenya, Guinea, Swaziland, Uganda, Botswana, Tunisia, Zambia and Madagascar.