Naypyidaw: Japan on Sunday announced a development aid and loan package for Myanmar worth hundreds of millions of dollars as it boosts trade ties with the fast-changing nation seen as a key regional emerging market.
    
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has pledged "all possible assistance" to kick-start Myanmar's long-neglected economy, agreed the plans in talks with reformist President Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw, according to a joint statement released by Japan's foreign ministry.
    
"...in laying a new foundation for taking the relationship between Japan and Myanmar to a higher level and establishing a lasting, friendly and cooperative relationship, Japan and Myanmar will work together," it said, before outlining areas of cooperation.
    
Abe's visit, the first visit by a Japanese premier since 1977, heralds a further improvement in already warm relations between Japan and Myanmar, as political reforms and the removal of most Western sanctions spur investment in the former pariah state.
    
As part of the new deals, the Japanese premier pledged up to 51 billion yen (USD 498.5 million) in new loans to Myanmar.
    
This covers countrywide infrastructure development, including road, electricity and water supplies; power station maintenance; and development of the Thilawa special economic zone near Yangon, a project agreed by both countries in December.
    
Japan also confirmed it would forgive 176.1 billion (USD 1.74bn) of Myanmar's debts -- the final portion of the 300 billion yen (USD 3.4 billion) that Tokyo pledged in April 2012 to cancel. The move was contingent on further reforms.
    
"In support of the development of Myanmar and having implemented its arrears clearance operation with Myanmar, the Government of Japan decided to provide new yen loans as well as grant assistance," the statement said.
    
Japan also announced an aid package worth up to 2.4 billion yen (USD 23 million) for water management in Yangon and a scholarship programme for young administrators overseeing the country's social and economic development.
    
Abe visited the Thilawa project yesterday -- a 2,400 hectare site which will include a port and industrial park -- as part of efforts to promote Japanese firms and his country's infrastructure-building expertise.
    
A memorandum of understanding was also signed for the project between nine Myanmar companies and three from Japan -- including Mitsubishi -- according to the state-backed newspaper the New Light of Myanmar.
    
Abe is accompanied by a 40-strong delegation of bosses from some of Japan's top companies, including Mitsubishi, Mitsui and infrastructure firms Taisei and JGC.

(Agencies)

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