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Myanmar Crisis

Myanmar soccer goalie seeks asylum after match in Japan

Tokyo will take 'appropriate' steps on the request, government spokesman says

Pyae Lyan Aung, a goalkeeper with Myanmar's national soccer team, gives the three-finger salute to the media at Japan's Kansai International Airport on May 17.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- The Japanese government will take "appropriate measures" for a Myanmar national team soccer player who is seeking refuge in the country, the chief cabinet secretary told reporters on Thursday.

Pyae Lyan Aung, 27, said Thursday that he will seek refugee status in Japan after refusing to return home on Wednesday night, fearing persecution in his home country. He was scheduled to depart from Japan from Kansai International Airport but left the team and met with legal advisers, local reports say.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato on Thursday told reporters the government will take "appropriate measures," while listening to the wishes of the soccer player. "We are aware of this matter, but we decline to comment on procedures for individual immigration and residency," Kato said.

Pyae Lyan Aung came to Japan on May 22 with more than 20 teammates and was in the squad for a match against Japan on May 28 as a substitute goalkeeper. During the national anthem, he gave the three-finger salute used by protesters against the coup in Myanmar, and wrote: "We need justice" on his fingers.

Since the Feb. 1 coup, more than 860 people have died in demonstrations against the junta and more than 6,000 have been arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a human rights group.

Myanmar substitute players listen to the national anthem before a World Cup Asia qualifiers match against Japan near Tokyo on May 28.   © Reuters

The Japanese government on May 28 announced that it would allow Myanmar nationals to extend their stays in the country for up to one year, if they wished to do so, because of unrest in the wake of the coup.

Pyae Lyan Aung is not the only Myanmar athlete fretting over safety issues.

In March, 19-year-old female martial artist Ma Kyal Sin was gunned down at a protest in Mandalay. A 26-year-swimmer, Win Htet Oo, earlier this month told Nikkei Asia that athletes "are being targeted" by the authorities and that many have been threatened into silence. He said in a Facebook post in May that by rejecting the Myanmar Olympic Committee he had foregone any chance of competing in Tokyo.

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