- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 9, 2010

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese reporter arrested while trying to sneak into Burma to cover its first elections in 20 years was released Tuesday and sent back to Thailand.

Toru Yamaji, 49, a reporter with the Japan-based APF news agency, was freed Tuesday afternoon and sent by boat back to where he entered the military-ruled country from northern Thailand.

Foreign reporters were not granted visas to cover the Nov. 7 election, which has been widely seen as rigged to favor the ruling junta’s proxy party. Yamaji was detained Sunday in Myawaddy, on Burma’s eastern border with Thailand.

APF, a Tokyo-based news organization, confirmed Mr. Yamaji’s release in a statement Tuesday. Mr. Yamaji crossed the Thai border by boat and called to say he was in good health late Tuesday, APF said.

A Japanese diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said Burmese officials told his embassy the reporter was freed in recognition of the “mutual friendly relations between the two countries.”

Burma, officially known as Myanmar, has been ruled by the military near-continuously since 1962, and rebellions by its ethnic minorities predate its independence from Britain in 1948.

The U.N. and human rights groups have detailed killings, rape, torture, forced labor and burning of villages in Burma as the regime tries to deny the rebels support from the civilian population. Thailand already shelters a quarter-million ethnic minority refugees from brutal campaigns by the Burmese army.

Anti-government parties claim Sunday’s election was blatantly rigged. Khin Maung Swe, chief of the anti-government National Democratic Force, accused the junta’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, of using every possible method to steal the vote, and said it was “sure to win 90 percent if they continue to cheat in such manner.”

Though most election results had not yet been released, there was little doubt the junta-backed USDP would emerge with an enormous share of the seats, despite widespread popular opposition to 48 years of military rule.

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