• Kyodo

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Japan vowed on Tuesday to help Southeast Asia rebuild roads and heritage sites damaged by the Dec. 26 tsunamis to hasten the return of visitors to the tourism-driven region.

The pledge was made at the annual meeting of tourism ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its northeastern neighbors China, Japan and South Korea, who met on the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi.

Hayao Hora, vice minister for international affairs in the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, headed the Japanese delegation.

While the amount of money has not yet been determined, a Japanese official said it would likely be drawn from the $500 million emergency relief fund Japan has set up for the tsunami-hit countries.

The aid will be channeled as official development assistance and distributed as both low-interest loans and “technical assistance.” The effort includes heritage sites, roads and other infrastructure damaged by the huge waves.

“The ministers welcomed Japan’s introduction of its comprehensive plan to increase the number of Japanese tourists to the disaster area,” the countries said in a joint statement.

The region is popular with Japanese tourists, and at least 25 are confirmed to have died in the tsunamis.

Japan said it will conduct a damage assessment of the affected countries to give the true picture of what happened and dispel misconceptions that have driven away hordes of tourists.

“There is a perception that the whole region cannot be visited,” said Malaysian Tourism Minister Leo Michael Toyad, who chaired the meeting. “Travel (advisories) from various countries ought to be more sensitive to the actual situation of the countries affected, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, (the) Maldives.

Indonesian Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik agreed, pointing out that only Aceh, which occupies the northern tip of Sumatra Island, was hit by the tsunamis.

“Indonesia is big. The rest of Indonesia is still very safe and very nice to visit, like Jakarta, Surabaya and Bali,” he said.

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