TOKYO -- A philanthropic organization working with the Japanese government will give $3 million in humanitarian aid to Myanmar's armed ethnic minorities, saying it's the first such aid approved by Myanmar's government.
Japan has been competing with other countries, especially China, to win access to investment opportunities in Myanmar, its markets and resources.
The Nippon Foundation said the food and medical aid was announced in a Tokyo conference Thursday with 20 representatives from the Myanmar groups' umbrella organization, the United Nationalities Federal Council.
The participants represented 10 of the 11 ethnic minority groups belonging to the UNFC, including the Kachin Independence Organization that is still engaged in combat with the government, and they discussed how to transport relief goods to their mountain camps.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Masaru Sato told the Associated Press on Friday that the deal reflects the government's efforts to support Myanmar's democratic and economic reforms. The latest humanitarian aid is a three-way effort by the two governments and the foundation. Humanitarian aid via a non-governmental organization can reach needy people more quickly than official development aid that often requires layers of bureaucratic procedures.
Sato said the government in June appointed the foundation's chairman Yohei Sasakawa as a special envoy to improve the welfare of Myanmar's ethnic minorities because "their peace process is vital to Myanmar's democratization."
Nippon Foundation official Hideo Fukuda said Myanmar's government doesn't recognize the UNFC but authorized the aid, apparently in hopes of speeding up the peace process. Some ethnic groups have peace deals with Myanmar, but many minorities still live in exile in the jungles.
Fukuda said the minorities should not be left out from recent democratic reforms in Myanmar that have prompted the lifting of some international sanctions.
Since Myanmar's military junta last year handed power to a nominally civilian government, Japan has taken steps to support Myanmar's reforms, including forgiving billions of dollars of Myanmar's debt and promising to resume aid. Japanese companies have also stepped up trade and investment, as have their foreign competitors.