After nearly three years of preliminary research, Japan will dispatch a mission of aid experts to Cuba as early as this summer to begin full-scale work on the development of a project to clean up heavily polluted Havana Bay, government sources said Tuesday.

The mission members will be from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a government-affiliated major aid organ, the sources said, adding it will take about two years to draft a master plan.

The bay is heavily polluted with industrial and household waste. Japan has been conducting preliminary research into the project since the summer of 1999, acting in response to a request from Cuba. The project is part of Japan’s technical cooperation, one type of its official development assistance extended directly to developing countries.

It is the first time that Japan has conducted a study on the development of a specific project for Cuba as part of its ODA.

The cleanup plan comes amid a rapid warming in recent years of relations between Japan and Cuba, exemplified by a series of high-level contacts, including separate visits to Tokyo by Vice President Carlos Lage and Racardo Alarcon, the Cuban national assembly chairman, in the autumn of 2000.

Lage, Alarcon and Defense Minister Raul Castro, a brother of aging revolutionary President Fidel Castro, are widely considered to be the men who will steer post-Castro Cuba.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Tamisuke Watanuki, Lower House speaker, visited Havana in 2001.

Japan’s ODA to Cuba has so far been limited to relatively small grants-in-aid and technical cooperation. No official yen loans have been provided due to political reasons — such as Cuba’s poor human-rights record and its lack of progress in democratizing its political system — and to concerns over Havana’s ability to repay big loans.

According to the sources, project-development studies conducted for developing countries usually result in future provisions of yen loans or full-scale grants-in-aid as funding. However, this will not automatically be the case with the Havana Bay cleanup project.

“Cuba will have to do more to improve its protection of human rights and democratic principles before being able to get relatively large amounts of Japanese ODA for funding the cleanup project,” a source said.

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