MANILA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday to make it possible for refugees to return to their homes in Rakhine state, from which hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled.
According to a Japanese government spokesman, Abe also appealed to Suu Kyi in their meeting in Manila to restore order in the province and to allow access for humanitarian aid.
At the same time, Abe said Japan is ready to give as much support as possible to the Myanmar government’s efforts to improve the situation in Rakhine, where attacks on security forces by armed insurgents in August led to outbreaks of violence.
Suu Kyi replied that Japan’s assistance for Rakhine has been contributing to peace and stability in the state, the spokesman said.
In U.N. General Assembly meetings in September, Foreign Minister Taro Kono announced Tokyo’s provision of up to $4 million in emergency assistance to both Myanmar and Bangladesh through international organizations.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights described the situation in Rakhine in September as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
But authorities in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar have said the military operations in Rakhine are aimed only at restoring stability and preventing terrorism following the attacks on government posts.
Abe also told Suu Kyi that Japan’s public and private sectors will continue to assist Myanmar with the various challenges it faces as it goes forth with democratization, according to the spokesman.
In the meeting, he announced Japan’s provision of about ¥125 billion ($1.1 billion) in loans and other assistance for a railway linking the cities of Yangon and Mandalay, efforts to boost farmers’ incomes, small and medium enterprises, residential finance and support for ethnic minorities.
The pledge is part of the Abe administration’s plan, announced during Suu Kyi’s visit to Japan in November last year, to contribute about ¥800 billion from the public and private sectors to Myanmar over five years to help pave the country’s path to democracy.
For Japan, assistance to Myanmar not only encourages regional stability but is also part of Tokyo’s bid to widen its economic and political influence among the less developed countries in the Mekong region, where China has been investing heavily.
Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from becoming Myanmar’s president, but she serves as state counselor, a position created following the landslide election victory of her National League for Democracy in 2015.