The Associated Press

Japan Cancels Myanmar Grant

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Japan, Myanmar's largest aid donor, said Tuesday it had canceled a multimillion dollar grant to protest the military-ruled nation's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Meanwhile, a U.N. envoy pressed Asian nations to take the lead in resolving the crisis in Myanmar as calls intensified for countries to use their financial leverage against the junta.

Japan had earlier said it would suspend some assistance in response to the death of Kenji Nagai, a Japanese journalist among at least 10 people killed when troops fired into crowds of peaceful protesters during the Sept. 26-27 crackdown. Diplomats and dissidents say that the death toll is much higher.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the government was canceling a grant worth $4.7 million for a business education center slated for the Yangon University campus. Machimura said the decision was made in response to the crackdown and followed a U.N. statement condemning the violence.

In 2005, Japan provided grants totaling $11.2 million and $14.7 million in technology assistance to Myanmar, according to the latest Foreign Ministry figures.

Video footage of Nagai's death appeared to show a soldier shooting the journalist at close range on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city. A commentary in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper Sunday blamed Nagai for having "invited danger" by attending the protests.

The military junta has been rounding up suspected dissidents since protests started in August. Thousands are believed to have been detained, including Buddhist monks who led demonstrations.

Myanmar's state-controlled media has carried commentaries denigrating protesters and junta critics. But, in an apparent effort to allay public anger over the mistreatment of monks, The New Light of Myanmar published two stories Tuesday about donations by members of the military and their families to monasteries.

However, at least one senior abbot at a monastery in Yangon has reportedly refused to accept alms from officials, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma, a shortwave radio station and Web site run by dissident Myanmar journalists in Norway.

A religious boycott of the junta was declared last month after monks were roughed up during a peaceful protest march in the northern town of Pakkoku. The 90-year-old Thaminsar Sayadaw in Yangon's Thayet township has continued to honor the boycott this month, according to DVB.

U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari was in Malaysia on Tuesday, the second stop in a six-nation tour to coordinate Asian governments' efforts to help resolve the crisis.

Gambari met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who said the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations wants to "see the success" of his negotiating work.

But the minister also said that ASEAN will not consider suspending Myanmar as a member and rejected any proposal for economic sanctions. "Dialogue and negotiations are still the best process," Syed Hamid said. "Nobody can talk when you are threatening all sorts of things."

Gambari will also travel to Indonesia, Japan, India and China before returning to Myanmar, where earlier this month, he met with the junta's leader, Gen. Than Shwe, to convey the world's outrage.

Gambari also met twice with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the head of the National League for Democracy but has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years. The U.N. wants the junta to start negotiations with Suu Kyi.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council issued its first-ever statement on Myanmar, condemning the clampdown and calling for the release of all political prisoners.

Meanwhile, global calls have grown for countries that do business with Myanmar to push the junta toward reform.

The European Union widened its sanctions against Myanmar on Monday, banning imports of timber, gemstones and precious metals. The measures come on top of an existing travel ban on Myanmar officials, an arms embargo and a freeze of Burmese assets.

Myanmar's military leaders have rebuffed calls for reforms, saying the only way to bring change is to follow the junta's seven-step "road map" to democracy, which is supposed to culminate with elections at an unspecified date.

So far, only the plan's first stage — drawing up guidelines for a new constitution — has been completed, and that took more than a decade. Critics say the road map is a ruse to allow the military to stay in power.