[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 13/5/08
- Wanted: Immediate US aid air drop
- The problem with dictators and disasters
- Myanmar says parts of nation still cut off
- Anger mounts in Bangkok at Myanmar aid visa delays
- Time to save Burma
- Junta monopolising relief aid
- UN says 102,000 dead in Burma, Thailand offers to be a base for relief supplies
- Burma's Generals - Blending Nazi-like Thought, Astrology, Brutality and Greed
- A Silver Lining for Burma?
- Aid for cyclone victims sold in Rangoon
- Cyclone victim says aid given only to junta supporters
- Junta continues dirty tricks as Burma votes
- NLD accuses junta of manipulating vote
Wanted: Immediate US aid air drop - KYAW ZWA MOE
A US air drop of humanitarian aid to the desperate survivors in the Irrawaddy delta - with or without Burma's permission - is the only way to save lives that hang in the balance with each passing hour.
Unilateral humanitarian intervention is justified because the Burmese junta has been given a chance to cooperate with dozens of international offers of aid, and it has failed miserably.
So far as expected, the junta is demanding that humanitarian aid be shipped to Burma but it doesn't want any foreign aid workers to enter the country.
Last Friday, the junta seized all food and equipment that the World Food Programme had flown into the country for relief aid. Later, the United Nations announced that it was suspending all aid shipments to Burma.
Four US navy ships, now located in the Gulf of Thailand, are positioned with relief supplies that could be air dropped into Burma or shipped on the ground, if the foot-dragging junta gives the go-ahead.
The US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Friday that the US is seeking the junta's permission for an air drop, and it respects a sovereign state's air space. There would be no air drop without permission, he said.
The fact is that it may be days or weeks before sufficient humanitarian aid gets to the survivors in the delta. Or, knowing the regime, the aid may never get there. Much of it could end up in junta warehouses.
If you think this is a harsh, distorted, cynical view, consider this:
The majority of 1.5 million homeless people are living without safe drinking water and sufficient food six days after the cyclone; thousands of people are injured or ill from bad water, helplessly waiting for treatment. Tens of thousands of corpses, including many children, are floating in ponds, creeks and rivers. The photographs are heartbreaking and many too grim to publish.
Aircraft loaded with relief supplies have been sitting on the tarmac for days, waiting for a green light. International aid workers have been waiting for days to get visas.
Small shipments of aid have started trickling into Rangoon's airport, but only after the generals have captured their propaganda pictures designed to make them look responsible and caring.
So far, aid has been allowed in mainly from close friends Thailand, India and China. Few planes from the Western world have been allowed into Rangoon. It is xenophobia and hubris politics, totally ignoring the welfare of the people.
"The Burmese regime is behaving appallingly," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in an interview last Thursday.
US Ambassador Eric John told reporters in Bangkok last Thursday: "We are in a long line of nations who are ready, willing and able to help, but also, of course, in a long line of nations that the Burmese don't trust."
Relief workers, he said, "are ready to go in to help. They are not going in to overthrow the government. They are not going in to spy. They have specific skills for immediately responding to disaster".
The junta is still telling the country through its state-run media that 22,997 people died and 42,119 are missing, when reliable local sources and US embassy estimates say more than 100,000 people could be dead; the United Nations estimates at least 1 million people are homeless.
The junta boasted that it has seven helicopters dispatching food aid.
In fact, hundreds of airplanes and helicopters and thousands of skilled relief workers will be needed to organise the distribution of food, shelter, medicine and create temporary camps to house the homeless.
Mobile hospitals will be needed to treat the injured and the sick and to prevent the outbreak of serious, communicable diseases.
One of the first tasks will be to gather up the tens of thousands of corpses from water and land so that the water system can return to its normal, non-contaminated state.
Last Tuesday, US President George W Bush said: "We're prepared to help move US Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing and to help stabilise the situation."
Sadly, there is no chance the junta will allow a large US presence on Burmese soil.
The man making that decision is Senior General Than Shwe, who should be held responsible for humanitarian crimes by blocking the world's relief efforts.
The US - and other willing nations - must act unilaterally. Act now, knowing right is on your side.
The people in villages and towns of the Irrawaddy delta are looking up at the sky waiting for relief supplies, local sources told The Irrawaddy. It started after shortwave radio broadcasts said the US Navy was ready to help supply aid.
It is time for immediate US-led air drops to help save the lives of thousands of helpless people in the Irrawaddy delta.
* Kyaw Zwa Moe is Managing Editor of The Irrawaddy Publishing Group.
The problem with dictators and disasters - Sreeram Chaulia
NEW YORK - As the full extent of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis dawns, it is clear that Myanmar's military junta has earned one more black mark in its egregious record of rule. United Nations officials reveal that the response of the country's long-reigning tyrants to offers of humanitarian aid has been typically suspicious and opaque, even though the scale of the disaster is massive (approximately 100,000 casualties and more than 1 million displaced persons).
The tardy relief measures mounted by the Myanmar army, coupled with the blockading of United Nations relief efforts through various barriers, reflect the criminality of the regime. By inordinately delaying aid flights and visas for UN relief workers, and confiscating international emergency supplies, the junta has demonstrated not only total insensitivity towards the suffering of its own people but also its paranoid insularity.
Having ruled with an iron fist for more than four decades by sealing off the country from outside influences, the generals in their secluded new capital at Naypyidaw, led by Senior General Than Shwe, clearly do not see any reason for relaxing the imprisonment of their population in the wake of Cyclone Nargis' fury. A number of calculations underlie the junta's obstructionist attitude to foreign assistance for cyclone victims.
First, it is motivated by fear of exposure of the socio-economic and political conditions that prevail in the Irrawaddy Delta, the hardest cyclone-hit region. If the UN is able to access the Delta, there is a danger of civilians lodging a deluge of complaints not only about their immediate travails from the cyclone, but also concerning the long-term oppression they have faced under military dictatorship.
While the scale of repression in Myanmar is known generically, the gory details are locked behind layers of state intelligence and military penetration of society. Opening the country to foreign-led cyclone relief teams threatens, through their inevitable communications with global media, to spill the beans on the military's brutal grassroots security policies.
Second, disaster relief organized by foreigners would be unpalatable to the junta's obsession for command and control through tight supervision and surveillance of the people. Admission of outsiders for cyclone relief would be seen by the hardliners in Naypyidaw as a potential crack in the door that could widen and loosen their grip on power.
By its very nature, the humanitarian enterprise lingers after a disaster and devises "post-emergency" projects that would potentially entail a near permanent presence in the country. That has been witnessed with the 2004 tsunami disaster and the long stay by foreign aid organizations in disaster-hit areas of Indonesia and Thailand. The junta is afraid that the UN, not to mention the United States, might use the cyclone as a Trojan Horse to eventually promote real grassroots democracy in Myanmar.
Interestingly, Naypyidaw did not procrastinate in accepting emergency aid from India, China, Thailand and Indonesia immediately after the cyclone. These Asian countries are perceived as innocuous compared to the UN because of their close strategic relations with the junta. Their aid is being handed directly over to the Myanmar authorities without tracking the endpoint distribution or monitoring the use of the supplies.
The International Herald Tribune reported that part of the UN relief tranche that did manage to enter Myanmar had been confiscated by the junta to organize its perverse referendum on a new constitution, which was held in most areas of the country on Saturday and was apparently a bigger government priority than rescuing cyclone victims.
Diversion of emergency aid to military purposes is a worldwide problem compounded by bilateral government-to-government assistance involving undemocratic recipient regimes like Myanmar.
A third reason why the junta has stymied international aid is apprehension that it might awaken domestic civil society. Local community-based organizations, citizens' self-help groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are independent of state direction are virtually non-existent in Myanmar. Strict regulation of societal activism is necessary for the junta to deflect criticism and popular calls for accountability.
Fear of 'NGO-ization'
The entry of foreign aid organizations on a large scale usually goes hand-in-hand with the spawning of local "implementing partners" and "NGO-ization" of the social sphere. While partner NGOs of international humanitarian organizations rarely address sensitive subjects like protection of civilians from atrocities and abuse, they could have unintended consequences of allowing spaces within which more radical citizen activism could emerge. Hence, the determination of the junta to contain domestic dissent is a likely factor behind obstructing UN and Western-led humanitarian aid.
To be sure, Myanmar's junta is not unique in mishandling disaster relief. North Korea's totalitarian regime has long shown no mercy for its starving population. Since the late 1990s, more than 3 million North Koreans are believed to have died from the man-made disasters of food shortages. The hermit regime has hence become dependent on foreign food assistance. However, the UN is reeling under donor fatigue due to legitimate concerns that the aid is being siphoned off by the Kim Jong-il regime to maintain and even strengthen the hold of his totalitarian government and the army on the hapless population.
In Africa, the despotic governments of Zimbabwe and Sudan have shown similar symptoms of either refusing foreign aid or misusing it for partisan purposes. The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe under the authoritarian President Robert Mugabe adversely affects more than half of the country's 11.6 million people who wilt under severe drought, poverty, an HIV/AIDS pandemic, economic decline and government-sponsored excesses. Yet Mugabe angrily denies that his country needs food aid and exacerbates the crisis by clamping down on expression of social concerns.
The military regime of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan has presided over a series of life-threatening humanitarian crises by orchestrating army and militia violence on civilians in the country's southern and western regions. UN initiatives to provide material relief and protection to Sudan's people have been frustrated at every step by the Bashir dictatorship, with the backing of tyrannical regimes in Egypt and Algeria. The Myanmar junta's botching of the Cyclone Nargis relief effort is thus part of a larger trend of authoritarian regimes mismanaging disaster response.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has argued that democracies are better positioned than non-democracies to deal with famines, droughts and other disasters. Elected governments act in a more responsible fashion when their populations are buffeted by natural or man-made disasters since power for politicians depends on popular mandates at the polls, not through the barrel of a gun. Moreover, democracies have a relatively freer media that scrutinizes the post-disaster response of the authorities for the public interest. The relative success of India in handling disasters like tsunamis, floods and earthquakes vis-a-vis Myanmar, North Korea or Pakistan would seem to vindicate Sen's thesis.
The gross inaction and belated response of the US government to Hurricane Katrina, which battered the southern state of Louisiana in 2005, however raises questions about the quality of democracy and its relation to effective and humane disaster response. According to a Gallup poll conducted shortly after the hurricane lashed New Orleans, six out of every 10 black residents said that "if most of Katrina's victims were white, relief would have arrived sooner".
The callous and biased approach of the US government to a huge natural calamity was contextually no less criminal than what the Myanmar junta has done in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. It turns out that both Naypyidaw and Washington have their respective fiddling Neros. The counter-example of Katrina shows the limitations of the intellectual case for democracy as a panacea for improved disaster response.
A state will have to be democratic not so much in form but in substance (ie respectful of minorities and weaker sections of society) to effectively mitigate disasters or relieve citizens after they inevitably occur. The junta's lack of response to Cyclone Nargis sends another unmistakable signal that Myanmar sorely needs an end to its dark night of military dictatorship. Yet establishing real democracy - not the sham constitutional referendum process held by the junta over the weekend - is the only way for Myanmar's pummeled people to train and prepare themselves for future calamities.
* Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher of international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University, New York.
Myanmar says parts of nation still cut off
AFP: Mon, 12 May 2008
YANGON -- Parts of Myanmar are still cut off 10 days after its devastating cyclone, the military regime said Monday, ahead of the first aid flight from the United States -- one of its most vocal critics.
The flow of international aid into Myanmar, which says 62,000 people are dead or missing, has increased in the past two days, bringing new hope for around 1.5 million people in desperate need of emergency aid.
But aid agencies said it remains difficult to get a full picture of the extent of the catastrophe in one of the world's poorest and most isolated nations, where the army has kept an iron grip on power for 46 years.
Long suspicious of any outside influences that could undermine their total control, the generals again said Monday that foreign experts -- who have the expertise to oversee the massive relief effort -- would not be put in charge.
"Delivery of relief goods can be handled by local organisations," said Economic Development Minister Soe Tha, quoted by the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the junta's state-run mouthpiece.
He said there were still some parts of country , formerly known as Burma, where government officials had not been able to visit since the massive storm, which churned up a tidal wave and sea surge, hit the southern delta on May 3.
"Supplies were dropped in flooded areas where the helicopters could not land," Soe Tha said.
Aid groups have insisted the regime does not have the capacity to direct the relief operation in the delta, where diarrhoea and other illnesses are starting to threaten survivors living in scenes of almost unimaginable despair.
Ten days after the tragedy struck, bloated corpses are still floating in the water, untold numbers do not have enough food or fuel or clean water, and many people say the government has not turned up with emergency supplies.
"We have not got any aid from anyone," said Man Mu, a mother of five in one of the thousands of tiny delta villages that was pulverised by the storm. One of her children was swept away in the disaster.
"We only have the clothes we are wearing," she said. "We have lost everything."
As it showed in the Asian tsunami disaster of 2004, the United States is perhaps the only country with the military manpower and equipment to carry out a vast and immediate relief effort of the kind needed.
But there is no question of Myanmar, which has suffered years of sanctions imposed by Washington, allowing in the military of the United States or indeed any other nation.
Analysts say that for the regime, it is crucial to maintain an image of being in total control of the welfare of the people -- even though aid groups say any delays in reaching the neediest could cost more lives.
"It sounds pretty devastating," said US Marine Major Tom Keating, as a US C-130 transport plane in neighbouring Thailand was loaded with blankets, mosquito nets and water for a flight to Myanmar's main city Yangon later in the day.
"When you have a crisis going and you can't help out, it's just frustrating," he said.
International aid flights have been increasing, and a Red Cross spokesman that nine of its planes alone will have reached Yangon by day's end. But aid groups stress that far more is needed.
"It's not true that nothing is happening at all, but not enough is happening," said Frank Smithuis of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
It has been impossible to get an accurate toll of the numbers of dead and missing, and estimates have varied widely from day to day. The United Nations and US diplomats have said they believe at least 100,000 are dead.
Relief agencies have struggled to get a clear picture of the situation on the ground.
Andrew Kirkwood of Save the Children, one of the few agencies allowed to operate under tight controls inside Myanmar, said there were now outbreaks of fever and diarrhoea among survivors.
He said many people were also suffering from wind-burn, from spending days out in the elements after their homes were destroyed.
Thousands of people have been flocking over the past few days to the delta town of Myaungmya, fleeing villages that in many cases are no longer there.
ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan has written to Myanmar seeking "quick admission" of aid from the region, but unlike western governments has stopped short of condemning the junta.
Anger mounts in Bangkok at Myanmar aid visa delays - Ed Cropley
Reuters: Mon 12 May 2008
A furious rescue worker accused Myanmar's military junta on Monday of crimes against humanity for refusing to give visas to aid officials desperate to enter the country to help the 1.5 million survivors of Cyclone Nargis.
"They say they will call, but it's always wait, wait, wait," Pierre Fouillant of the Comite de Secours Internationaux, a French disaster rescue agency, told Reuters after being turned away from the former Burma's embassy in the Thai capital.
"I've never seen delays like this, never," said Fouillant, a veteran of 10 humanitarian disasters. "It's a crime against humanity. It should be against the law. It's like they are taking a gun and shooting their own people."
Like dozens of others, Fouillant applied on Thursday for a business visa, his only option since the military-ruled and isolated southeast Asian nation has no such thing as an "emergency aid worker" visa.
The embassy was closed on Friday for a Thai holiday, and on Saturday and Sunday. It opened as normal on Monday morning.
At least 100,000 people are thought to have died in the May 2 cyclone and storm surge in the Irrawaddy delta, a death toll that could rise dramatically if survivors do not get access to food, clean water and medicine in the next few days, experts say.
Reuters witnesses on the edges of the disaster zone say towns and villages are being swamped by huge numbers of cyclone refugees and cannot cope.
There is virtually no government assistance and food is running out. Some residents say they are afraid the desperate evacuees will be forced to turn to looting.
Against this backdrop, small groups of rescue workers are having to wait outside the iron-spiked, grey walls of the embassy compound in Bangkok while their leaders and local visa agents try to see if their applications have got anywhere.
"It is very frustrating," said Australian firefighter Craig Allan, who dropped everything at home to get to Bangkok and apply for a visa on Thursday.
His agency, part of Baptist World Aid, is called "Rescue 24" as it is meant to be able to put a team on the ground within 24 hours of any disaster anywhere in the world. In this case, it might be 24 days, he joked bleakly.
The U.N. said its top representative in Myanmar had flown to Naypyidaw, the generals' new capital, on Monday to hand over in person a list of 60 "critical" U.N. and relief agency staff.
Despite this, U.N. officials said none of its staff in Bangkok had received any visas on Monday. They also said foreign staff inside the country were prevented from leaving Yangon.
"There are limits, if not bans, on staff going to the delta," Terje Skavdal of the U.N.'s humanitarian arm told reporters.
Patrick Michaudel, a French employee of medical services firm SOS International, with clinics in Yangon, was almost in tears as he left the embassy after a fruitless week-long visa wait.
When he got to the front of the queue, Michaudel was elated to see his passport open on the desk with a visa inside.
He could only watch in horror as a female official then carefully peeled the visa sticker out of his passport and crudely covered up the partial stamp on the passport page with liquid paper.
"No reason, no reason. She just peeled it out," he said, with a shrug of the shoulders. "I've had enough of this. I'm going home."
Time to save Burma - Yeni
Irrawaddy: Mon 12 May 2008
Burma is in the middle of a catastrophe - the lives of more than a million people are at great risk and about 100,000 people have been killed. The damage to the country's infrastructure and agriculture caused by Cyclone Nargis will be felt for years. The landscape of Burma's Irrawaddy delta is devastated. The bloated corpses of men, women and children lay strewn around the rice paddies. Animal carcasses float down rivers and wash up on riverbanks. Those lucky enough to survive now desperately seek shelter, water, food and medical care anywhere they can. Buddhist temples and schools have been turned into makeshift refugee centers and clinics.
To Burma's military rulers, however, the goal is still to maintain absolute control over everything - from barring almost all foreign aid workers with expertise in massive aid distribution to intense micromanagement of the distribution of aid. Observers suggest the regime wants all aid to pass through the hands of the military government leaders, because of their well-known penchant for theft, corruption and propaganda.
Sources in the southern Irrawaddy delta told The Irrawaddy the army has barred survivors from entering shelters in certain towns, such as Bogalay and is forcing them back to their shattered villages.
On Friday, the UN's weather agency, the World Meteorological Organization, reported that occasional tropical showers are expected through next Wednesday, May 14. It also forecasts "a period of heavy rainfall settling in around Thursday or Friday next week."
As an old Burmese proverb says: "The rain always pours wherever the desperate people go."
However, the country's secretive military leaders are too busy with the referendum vote to notice. They say the country is not ready to accept foreign aid workers, indicating on Friday that it wants foreign relief but not foreign workers.
In addition, members of regime-backed groups such as the Union Solidarity and Development Association have attempted to hijack relief supplies, according to local charity groups and nongovernment organizations in the former Burmese capital, Rangoon.
Now humanitarian workers fear that the "unimaginable tragedy" is closing in. Survivors still lack water, food and sanitation. The predicted rains this week will undoubtedly affect and expose to the elements those survivors who are struggling to cope in makeshift shelters.
There are also the increased threats of dengue fever and malaria, diseases that manifest from mosquitoes breeding around stagnant water. With so many corpses and animal cadavers infecting water supplies and rivers, the risk of bacterial infection is extremely high - cholera, typhoid, diarrhea and dysentery are all epidemics waiting to happen. Even those who mange to get to refugee shelters are susceptible to increased risks - the collection of so many children in enclosed spaces causes measles and other air-borne diseases will spread quickly.
Oxfam's regional chief Sarah Ireland warned on Sunday that it "could all combine to endanger the lives of up to 1.5 million people."
Unfortunately, the rest of the world can do very little except sit back and watch in horror.
France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has called upon the UN to use its newly approved "responsibility to protect civilians" policy to enter Burma and deliver aid over the objections of the generals. But eight members of the UN Security Council - both permanent and non-permanent - even opposed the French move to have a discussion on the humanitarian crisis and the progress of relief operations in Burma. In the meantime, the French have sent a ship containing 1,500 tons of aid anyway, hoping that the Burmese junta will do an about-turn in the coming days.
One would think that the UN would have enough leverage with the Burmese authorities to at least pressure them to lift the complicated visa requirements that are preventing more than 1,000 aid workers from entering the country. But no.
Beijing has stated that foreign governments should not politicize the issue. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "We should take full consideration of Myanmar's [Burma's] willingness and sovereignty."
Sadly, survivors from Burma's devastated Irrawaddy delta are facing homelessness, starvation and disease - each factor compounded by a heartless regime. The world must now decide whether national sovereignty trumps the moral responsibility of alleviating human suffering.
Sovereignty should not mean that governments are free to do what they want within their own borders if it causes the deaths of tens of thousands of its citizens.
Junta monopolising relief aid
NYT: Mon 12 May 2008
When one of Myanmar's best-known movie stars, Kyaw Dhyu, traveled through the Irrawaddy Delta in recent days to deliver aid to the victims of the May 3 cyclone, a military patrol stopped him as he was handing out bags of rice.
"The officer told him, 'You cannot give directly to the people," said Tin Win, the village headman of the stricken city of Dedaye, who had been counting on the rice to feed 260 refugees who sleep in a large Buddhist prayer hall.
The politics of food aid - deciding who gets to deliver assistance to those homeless and hungry after the cyclone - is not just confined to the dispute between Myanmar's military junta and Western governments and outside relief agencies.
Even Myanmar citizens who want to donate rice or other items have in several cases been told that all assistance must be channeled through the military. That restriction has angered local government officials like Tin Win who are trying to help rebuild the lives of villagers. He twitched with rage as he described the rice the military gave him.
"They gave us four bags," he said. "The rice is rotten - even the pigs and dogs wouldn't eat it."
He said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had delivered good rice to the local military leaders last week but they kept it for themselves and distributed the waterlogged, musty rice. "I'm very angry," he said, adding an expletive to describe the military.
At least 1.5 million people were severely affected by the hurricane, and outside relief agencies fear the officially reported deaths, which rose on Sunday to more than 28,000, could escalate if the military did not allow foreign aid to flow in. But more than a week after the hurricane hit, the junta was still permitting only a few planeloads of supplies to land and was refusing to grant visas to most foreign aid workers.
For the generals, who have held power for more than four decades in Myanmar, the restrictions on aid and how it is distributed are part of their overriding priority of showing who is in control and of cultivating the image that they alone are the nation's benevolent providers.
While the generals have permitted some token relief efforts by wealthy citizens, who could be seen Sunday handing out sweets and instant noodles from their cars to destitute families lining the roads near Yangon, the largest city, and elsewhere, the junta is clearly not allowing some prominent domestic donors to help for political reasons.
Kyaw Dhyu, for example, is perceived as unfriendly to the military because he assisted monks who protested against the government during the demonstrations last year - and was jailed for a month.
The military also appears to be trying to minimize any foreign presence or role in the relief effort. The United Nations World Food Program said Sunday that only one visa had been approved of 16 requested. The aid group World Vision said it had requested 20 visas but received 2. Doctors Without Borders, the French medical aid group, said it was still awaiting approval of dozens of visa applications for technical support staff aid coordinators.
Paul Risley, a spokesman for the World Food Program, said the volume of aid allowed by the Myanmar junta into the country amounted to one-tenth of what was needed.
The authorities here have agreed to permit a United States Air Force C-130 transport full of relief supplies to come on Monday. The plane was scheduled to leave Utapao airport in Thailand at midday, said a spokesman for the United States Pacific Command, Cmdr. Jeffrey A. Breslau. An American official in Yangoon confirmed that the plane as enroute and due to arrive Monday afternoon.
In Yangon, where 70 percent of the trees were uprooted by the storm, residents were struggling to return to some semblance of normality but most remained without power. In the street markets and stores, the prices of rice and candles have doubled and the cost of gasoline has tripled. The price of corrugated tin, used for roofing, has also doubled.
Privately, some residents showed flashes of resentment toward the military for monopolizing the distribution of basic necessities. "These military men are notorious," said a college student in Yangon whose family had to buy seven panels of corrugated tin to repair their roof. "They get these supplies free. They are donated by other countries, then the military receives them and sells them to the people."
Here in Ma Ngay Gyi, in the farthest southern reaches of the delta, a reporter was detained for an hour and a half on Sunday by soldiers who said they had orders to report foreigners in the area.
In what was emblematic of the wider tensions over the issue of aid distribution, an argument broke out in the village between the soldiers, who said any foreigner was suspect, and the village headman, Myint Oo, who solicited aid from the visitor for the rebuilding of a school flattened by the cyclone.
"The government told us that school must reopen June 1, if you have a schoolhouse or not," Myint Oo told his visitor. "'Teach under a tree if you have to,' they said."
When he began describing the devastation to the school and village, a portly man in a white T-shirt who also seemed to hold a position of power interrupted.
"Don't tell these foreigners anything," the man said.
Myint Oo replied that he wanted to talk to the visitors in the hope that they could help rebuild the village.
"They will send the facts to the world and show the weakness of the Myanmar government," said the man in the white shirt.
He looked directly at Myint Oo and said in a loud voice, "Come outside!"
More than 250 people were killed by the cyclone in the village, which is reachable only by boat, and the stench of death lingers in the surrounding canals. Men in the village rushed to the reporter's arriving boat and made the universal gesture of food, putting pinched fingers up to their lips.
As the visitors departed, a village woman asked a soldier holding an AK-47 assault rifle why they had detained the foreigners.
"These are orders," the soldier replied. "Be quiet."
* A New York Times correspondent reported from Yangon, Myanmar. Seth Mydans contributed reporting from Bangkok, Eric Schmitt from Washington and Denise Grady from New York.
UN says 102,000 dead in Burma, Thailand offers to be a base for relief supplies
Bangkok Post: Mon 12 May 2008
Thailand will act as a mediator to help with the movement of international relief supplies to Burma, which are being held up by the military junta and are stuck in Thailand, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said yesterday. The move comes as the UN says up to 102,000 people could have been killed by Cyclone Nargis and about 220,000 are reported missing.
Mr Noppadon said he planned to leave for Burma tomorrow to push for additional assistance and ask the Burmese generals to provide wider access and to allow foreign assistance for the cyclone victims.
He said he will also ask that foreign experts be allowed to enter Burma to give humanitarian aid to the victims.
He said the foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will meet in Singapore on May 19 to discuss ways to help the victims.
Former foreign minister Surin Pitsuwan is the Asean secretary-general.
The number of people reported missing after the cyclone hit has risen to about 220,000, the United Nations said, and it warned of environmental damage, violence and mass migration.
It said assessments of 55 townships in the Irrawaddy delta and other disaster-hit areas found up to 102,000 people could have been killed in the cyclone, which struck flimsy dwellings with fierce winds and huge waves on May 2.
''Based on these assessments, the UN estimates that 1,215,885 to 1,919,485 people have been affected by the cyclone, the number of deaths could range from 63,290 to 101,682, and 220,000 people are reported to be missing,'' said the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
State-run television in Burma reported last night that the death toll had risen to more than 28,458 and 33,416 people were missing.
Meanwhile, a cargo boat carrying the first Red Cross aid to survivors sank yesterday. The boat carrying relief supplies for more than 1,000 people was believed to have hit a submerged tree in the Irrawaddy delta and started taking on water, International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) official in Bangkok Andy McElroy said.
The accident highlighted the enormous logistical difficulties of delivering aid to the survivors, who are in need of food, shelter and medicine, with roads washed away and much of the delta turned into swampland.
The crew steered the stricken Red Cross boat to an island but it sank rapidly, Mr McElroy said. All crew members and the four Burma Red Cross personnel on board, two men and two women, scrambled to safety.
''This is a great loss for the Burma Red Cross and for the people who need aid so urgently,'' Aung Kyaw Htut, the Burma Red Cross aid distribution team leader, said. ''This would have been our very first river shipment and it will delay aid for a further day.''
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said yesterday he called off his plan to visit Burma to push for British and American rescuers to be allowed in.
But he said he fully supported Burma as Thailand was a neighbour and he would not mind if his stance causes the West to isolate Thailand.
Mr Samak also said he admired Supreme Commander Boonsang Niampradit for arranging for swift assistance to Burma. Thailand was the first nation to send help.
Gen Boonsang said Nipat Thonglek, the director-general of the Border Affairs Department, left for Rangoon as a special representative of Mr Samak yesterday. Lt-Gen Nipat would meet Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein to coordinate assistance.
The visit followed a US statement that agencies were ready to help through the World Food Programme.
The US is sending its aid to Bangkok and is committed to supplying food to 600,000 Burmese for six months, but supplies cannot reach Burma because of visa restrictions imposed by the junta.
Air Force commander ACM Chalit Phukphasuk also flew to Burma yesterday. He was delivering necessities worth 1.08 million baht His Majesty the King donated to cyclone victims.
Mae Sot district in Tak province is now the only land route for necessities to be transported into Burma.
According to local charity activist Panithi Tangphati, Win Myint, chief of the Myawaddy Border Trade Office, said donations can be delivered through government officials and at the Tamaya monastery. However, donors must pay a transport fee of 40,000 baht per truck.
Burma's Generals - Blending Nazi-like Thought, Astrology, Brutality and Greed - Benedict Roger
The Cutting Edge News: Mon 12 May 2008
Over a week since Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, the death toll is estimated to be at least 100,000 - and still rising. Yet as the bodies decompose, Burma's ruling Generals continue to refuse access to international aid workers. The limited aid supplies that have reached Burma have been seized by the military, either to distribute themselves for propaganda purposes or, according to some reports, to sell on the streets. And now the regime has taken a three-day public holiday and closed its embassies, causing another delay for international aid workers trying to find a way in to help.
Who are these Generals who are prepared to stand by and watch while thousands of their people die and more than 1.5 million are left homeless? How could they ignore the warnings they received of the cyclone's advance? India issued 41 warnings from April 26 but the regime did nothing. Why?
The regime is the latest in a succession of military juntas which have ruled Burma since Ne Win took power in a coup in 1962. In 1990, following a mass uprising two years earlier which was violently suppressed, the military held elections. Despite the junta's efforts to intimidate and harass voters into supporting their continued rule, the opposition's National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won 82 percent of the parliamentary seats. The military, however, disregarded the results, imprisoned the victors, and intensified its grip on power.
This regime, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), consists of a cluster of Generals. The top leader, Senior General Than Shwe, in his seventies and in failing health, is reclusive and intransigent. He has refused to enter into talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD, or any of the major ethnic nationalities in Burma - a call they have repeatedly made in vain. He and his colleagues are guided primarily not by any political ideology, but simply by a desperate determination to hold onto power at all costs.
There are, however, two other guiding sets of beliefs behind the regime besides simply power. The first is an extreme Burman Buddhist nationalism, expressed in a phrase which has echoes of the Nazis - "One race, one language, one religion."
The Generals are ultra-nationalist and have a xenophobic, racist hatred of non-Burmans - within the country and abroad. That is why the regime is carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Karen, Karenni, and Shan ethnic groups in eastern Burma, and cultural genocide against the Chin people in western Burma. Ethnic groups are unable to teach or speak their own languages in government-run schools. Even ethnic groups that no longer fight armed resistance struggles, such as the Kachin and the Mon, continue to suffer forced labour, land confiscation, religious persecution, rape, and sexual violence.
The Generals are ostentatiously Buddhist - when it is politically convenient. But in truth, they manipulate the whole concept of religion, propagandistically appearing on television visiting monasteries, praying, and giving alms. Their charade convinced the new Thai Prime Minister who, following his recent visit to Burma, declared that he thought the Generals were "good Buddhists" because they "meditate."
The regime uses its distorted, perverted form of Buddhism as a tool to suppress non-Buddhists. Christians, particularly among the Chin and Kachin, face severe restrictions and discrimination. Chin Christians have been forced at gunpoint to tear down crosses on hill-tops, and build Buddhist pagodas in their place - often contributing the costs and material for construction themselves. Children have been lured from Christian families and placed in Buddhist monasteries, where they are forced to become novice monks. Churches face serious difficulties in obtaining permission to build a new church, renovate or extend an existing church, or hold meetings other than their Sunday services. Christians are denied promotion in government service. Muslims among the Rohingya ethnic group face similar persecution - their mosques are destroyed, access to education denied and permission to marry refused.
Yet despite the Generals' overt Buddhism, last September they did not hesitate to brutally crush protests led by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks. The military beat, arrested, jailed, tortured, and killed monks - and while the number of those killed is unknown, it is believed to have been in the hundreds.
The second guiding thought behind the regime is astrology. Than Shwe has a personal astrologer, just as Ne Win did before him. One of the reasons the regime moved the capital from Rangoon to the remote jungle location of Naypidaw was, according to speculation, that Than Shwe's astrologers advised him to do so. In 1988, Ne Win demonetised much of the currency because his astrologers told him his lucky number was nine - and so he invalidated notes which were not multiples of nine, causing millions of people to lose savings overnight.
The Generals live in luxury while their people starve. Two years ago Than Shwe spent $300,000 on his daughter's wedding, where wedding presents amounted to $50 million. Recent reports indicated that the regime has only put $5 million into helping the victims of the cyclone. More than $40 million has been pledged by various other countries, but the Generals are still only permitting a trickle to get through.
On May 10, the regime went ahead with a referendum on a new constitution, despite the devastation that the country was dealing with following the cyclone. The referendum was a complete sham - millions were already disenfranchised, and those who could vote were intimidated or forced into voting "yes." In some cases, local officials even cast the ballots on behalf of voters - ensuring the result the regime desired. The constitution itself will enshrine military rule. The military will hold 25 percent of the parliamentary seats, but its proxy parties will doubtless contest elections and probably rig them to win. According to the constitution, the President must be someone with military experience, who has not been married to a foreigner, and does not have children who have foreign citizenship. On all three counts, Aung San Suu Kyi - whose husband was British - is excluded.
The regime is guilty of every possible human rights violation, amounting to crimes against humanity, and possibly a case of genocide. The Generals have presided over campaigns involving the widespread, systematic use of rape as a weapon of war, forced labour, forced relocation, and the destruction of over 3,200 villages in eastern Burma since 1996. Over a million people are internally displaced as a result of military offensives against civilians. And all this was going on before Cyclone Nargis. This is a regime which has only one care - self-preservation and control - and as long as they perceive an international presence in Burma as a threat, they will continue to refuse access and manipulate aid.
* Benedict Rogers is the author of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People (Monarch, 2004), and has visited Burma and its borderlands more than 20 times. He also serves as Deputy Chairman of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.
A Silver Lining for Burma? - Maureen Aung-Thwin
Wall Street Journal: Mon 12 May 2008
Cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma last weekend, has obviously claimed a horrific number of lives. Burma's military regime, which renamed the country Myanmar in 1989, admits to more than 22,000 dead. But inside observers say the death toll could rise as high as 100,000.
The silver lining, say some optimists, is that Cyclone Nargis might accomplish what the United Nations and decades of outside political and economic pressure have failed to - break the military's stranglehold on Burma's democratic movement and usher in a new era of greater cooperation with the outside world. Sadly, as days pass and the death toll climbs, this looks more and more like wishful thinking.
It's been nearly a week since the storm hit, and the regime is still dithering about letting in provisions and outside disaster experts. While tens of thousands of survivors in the hardest hit Irrawaddy Delta area await food and water on bits of dry land, it took an entire day for the regime to agree to allow the World Food Program - an agency already inside Burma - to distribute 45 tons of food. And while the regime has reluctantly accepted some forms of outside assistance, disaster relief teams from 18 different countries are cooling their heels waiting for visas to enter the country.
The cyclone came at a most inconvenient time for the regime, eight days before a controversial referendum on a draft constitution that opposition leaders, including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, are calling "undemocratic" and urging the public to reject. Indeed, it is rumored within Burma that the regime is stalling and will issue visas only after the May 10 referendum helps legitimize its rule.
All this is happening just eight months after the world's attention turned to Burma, when Buddhist monks took to the streets - only to be brutally put down - in what was dubbed the Saffron Revolution. "It can't get any worse" is what many long-suffering citizens of Burma, who have endured 46 years of military dictatorship, are used to saying. And yet it does get worse. The cyclone arrived on the heels of huge fuel and food price hikes. Up to now, the Burmese people have managed to endure, albeit with great suffering. This time, though - with a third of Burma's population living in the storm-devastated delta area - suffering takes on a whole new meaning.
The regime claims Cyclone Nargis took it by surprise. But Indian meteorologists announced that they gave official warning to the Burmese government of the incoming storm two days before it landed.
Naypyidaw, the hastily built capital where the military government situated itself a few years ago, has everything most of the rest of the country doesn't: electricity, Internet connections, good roads, modern brick housing. Military leaders in Naypyidaw, including Supreme Leader Gen. Than Shwe, likely knew the cyclone was on its way, but didn't adequately warn civilians.
Now, the military government insists it has the capacity to handle the crisis with little outside help. State-run MRTV is airing footage of military helicopters and soldiers delivering food and water to victims, with uniformed army officers handing out individual meals to thankful villagers.
Local residents paint a very different picture. A woman interviewed by Radio Free Asia said that in her town "people had cleared the area, including the trees, and now the military came and took pictures as if it were their work. . . .
"Actually it's the people who are doing these things on their own. Monks have been clearing up the trees, and they've told the monks not to do so. There are many people in hospitals willing to donate blood, but they can't accept it because there's no power or cold storage." Other residents added: "They [soldiers] distributed water to houses connected to them. Other places didn't get it."
Does the regime, as it claims, have the capacity to deal with a disaster of this scale? It certainly has the money. The Burmese government is not poor, with yearly windfall profits of nearly $2 billion, mostly from the sale of natural gas to Thailand. But these revenues have not been spent on services for its citizens, much less on emergency-relief capacity.
The dilemma for the Burmese military is how to accept foreign aid but not foreign aid workers. Members of the international community, including critics of the regime, have been quick to offer aid after seeing the horrific images of destruction. President Bush has offered two naval ships equipped for search and rescue missions, and the U.S. Treasury has relaxed its sanctions policy to allow humanitarian groups and individuals to send money. Now U.S. citizens, who are always generous donors in time of disasters, can contribute directly to the relief efforts of organizations inside Burma.
Three and a half years ago, when the 2004 Asian tsunami devastated parts of Indonesia, particularly the island of Aceh, many of the same governments and agencies now offering aid to Burma rushed in to help. Most notably, the same U.S. naval vessels being offered to Burma by President Bush brought massive amounts of fresh drinking water, food, medical supplies and temporary housing for a large number of people within a short period of time.
Indonesians worried about sovereignty were won over by the success of that effort. What's more, the decades-long civil war in Aceh suddenly lost its appeal when the nation was confronted with the challenges of rebuilding. Shortly after the tsunami, rebel leader Irwandi Jusuf was asked by the central government to participate in peace talks; today he is the elected governor of Aceh.
As of this writing, the Burmese government had yet to accept the assistance offered by the U.S. The naval vessels remained on the ready off the coast of Thailand.
* * *
The tragedy that has befallen Burma could still be the catalyst needed to end the country's long isolation from the rest of the world. But in order for that to happen, the regime will have to trust the good intentions of foreign governments and aid workers. In return, critics of the regime will have to do their best to focus on addressing the massive and immediate needs of humanitarian aid.
The prospects for this scenario decrease with each passing day. France has suggested invoking a U.N. "responsibility to protect" to deliver aid to Burma without the regime's approval. That effort has been resisted thus far, but Burma's generals should understand one thing: The longer they fail to protect their own, the less legitimate their rule becomes.
* Ms. Aung-Thwin is director of the Burma Project, part of the Soros Foundations network.
Aid for cyclone victims sold in Rangoon
DVB: Mon 12 May 2008
A Rangoon resident told DVB that noodle packets, condensed milk cans and mosquito nets intended for Cyclone Nargis victims were sold openly in the streets and markets.
"I saw dry (instant) noodle packets, condensed milk tins and mosquito nets for rescue efforts in downtown areas. They are selling noodle packets at Nyaungpinlay Market for 600 (Kyat) a packet. Condensed milk too. The brands are not the same as the previous ones. They are of the same brands mentioned in the (government) media They are selling them on Barr Street. They are selling condensed milk and noodle packets in Nyaungpinlay Market. We are surprised how these materials designated for flood victims ended up in the shops."
Another resident said that recent heavy rains are also causing problems as debris caused by the cyclone has blocked the drainage canals.
"People are living in fear because of the weather forecasts that predict storm and heavy rains. It is not that gusty, but it has been raining heavily for three consecutive nights They haven't collected rubbish left behind by the storm and the gutters and roads are blocked and water rises up very quickly Local people have to come and clear them and the water is gone again now. We are doing things on our own initiative. No one is coming to help us."
Cyclone victim says aid given only to junta supporters - Maung Too
DVB: Mon 12 May 2008
A cyclone victim in Hlaing Tharyar, Rangoon, has said people in the township are not receiving any assistance and are being driven out of public buildings by local authorities.
In an interview with DVB on Friday, the woman said there were many cyclone victims in the township, perhaps more than 10,000, but they had been forced out of buildings where they had taken shelter by local officials and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association.
DVB: We understand the cyclone victims were asked to move out of a building. Can you tell me where that was?
CV: "From state high school No. 3. None of the cyclone victims received anything when rice and oil were given out. The USDA and the local authorities were handing out rice and oil, so we went there but we were not given anything. They only distributed the goods to their own people. None of the starving victims received anything. There are many people in serious trouble with many of them staying in monasteries. We are staying in a hall."
DVB: When were the authorities distributing rice and oil?
CV: "They have been distributing the food for the past three days."
DVB: What about today?
CV: "No, not today. The people who are really starving did not receive anything. The food was distributed to people in their own organisations. Only about 50 of the victims received the food distributed".
DVB: You said only 50 of the victims received the food. How many people do you believe need it?
CV: "Over 10,000."
DVB: The 10,000 people you speak of, did they lose their homes in the cyclone?
CV: "Yes, they lost everything. Some died, some lost the roofs of their homes, and some were left without shelter and are starving. Some couples have many children."
DVB: Which ward are you from?
CV: "Ward No. 14."
DVB: I see, but the victims must be from different wards?
CV: "Yes. People from all wards came to the food distribution area."
DVB: Why did they force you away from state high school No. 3?
CV: "They said we were not allowed to stay there any longer. The person who ordered out was U Mya Win of the USDA. We were evicted yesterday and had to go without meals in the morning. Food is only given to their people and we, who are starving, did not get anything, neither oil nor rice. We are all homeless and I have to rent a place." "I am a cyclone victim but I have not even received a grain of rice. They said they were distributing food at 1500 hours, so I went there and they told me the distribution was in the morning. They - the USDA Office - asked me to come early the next morning and I did and they told me the distribution would only be in the evening."
DVB: So, you want to appeal to the USDA and the local authorities to be fair in distributing food aid. The international agencies are also concerned about the assistance reaching the people. The aid, it appears, is not reaching you. So, what would you like to tell the international community about it?
CV: "I want to tell them that food aid is not reaching us, we are in trouble because of our food, clothing and shelter difficulties, and we have nowhere to stay. We want them to help us. The other day, my niece fainted after they closed the iron gates on the people queuing for food aid and she was caught in between. We are really in trouble and that is what we want the international community to know. We want the food aid to be sent directly to the people because we do not get anything if it comes through them."
Junta continues dirty tricks as Burma votes - Aye Nai
DVB: Mon 12 May 2008
Voters in Burma's national referendum on 10 May have reported widespread vote-rigging and manipulation as authorities used underhand tactis to secure approval for the military regime's draft constitution.
In Bago division, Thararwaddy township's National League for Democracy chairman U Aung Myint said farmers from villages in the region had been denied their right to vote in the referendum by Village Peace and Development Council and Unions Solidarity and Development Association officials.
"Residents of villages far from the town such as Nga Phyu Lay, Magyi Kwin, Taung Whay Shae, Koemeenin, Yaydwingone and Kywechaninn did not even have to go to the ballot stations as their village authorities and USDA officials had already cast 'Yes' votes on their behalf," Aung Myint said.
A member of the Tharawaddy NLD organising committee said around 700 employees of the Tharawaddy dish factory had to cast 'Yes' votes in advance of the referendum as directed by government authorities.
He also said 'Yes' votes from about 150 members of the township police force and their family members were collected since before the referendum.
In Nyaunglaybin township, also in Bago division, voters said officials had already ticked the 'Yes' boxes on their ballot papers when they turned up to vote.
"We were disappointed to find out that the ballot station officials had already ticked 'Yes' on our ballot slips and we demanded an explanation from them," one Nyaunglaybin resident said.
"They said it was only an error."
A resident of Myinchan township, Mandalay division, said authorities had announced over loudspeakers ahead of the referendum that those who voted 'No' would be sent to Naypyidaw and imprisoned.
In Kyone Pyaw township in Irrawaddy division, residents were handed ballot papers already marked 'Yes' by polling station officials and told to put them in any of the three ballot boxes.
The referendum is due to be held on 24 May in the remaining townships in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions that were worst hit by the recent cyclone.
NLD accuses junta of manipulating vote
DVB: Mon 12 May 2008
The National League for Democracy has condemned the Burmese military regime for "manipulating" the constitutional referendum, fraudulently securing "Yes" votes and barring independent observers.
NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win said voters had been forced into voting in favour of the constitution and said NLD members had been prevented from observing the referendum.
Rangoon division NLD organising committee chairperson U Soe Myint and joint secretary Dr Myo Aung were stopped by police on their way to Hmawbi, Taikkyi and Tantabin in Rangoon division to observe the referendum, Nyan Win said.
A sub-inspector of the police security unit stopped their car at a tollgate near Hmabwi and refused to let them proceed, forcing Soe Myint to come back.
In Thararwaddy, the polling station was only opened for a short time in the morning and then closed, and voters were told to go to local government offices to vote.
"Local authorities had collected national registration cards from the voters in the town and bank loan booklets from the rural villagers," Nyan Win said.
"These cards and booklets were only returned to people after they came and voted "Yes" in the referendum."
Nyan Win said there had been reports from all over the country that polling stations were manned and guarded by members of the government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Associations and other people who had nothing to do with the referendum.
"People who went to the polling stations were asked to vote "Yes", and most of the time voters were personally guided by the people waiting there to tick their ballots," he said.
"The voters themselves were not allowed to do anything because the helpers voted "Yes" for them. That has been happening all over the country."
Nyan Win said the party had heard specific reports of these practices from Namti in Shan State, Yamethin in Mandalay division, Yenanchaung and Salin in Magwe Division, Irrawaddy division's Bassein and Kyonpyaw, and Bago, Nattalin, and Zigon in Bago division.
"It is happening everywhere. [The authorities] are totally disregarding the law and openly and forcefully securing votes in their favour," Nyan Win said.
The party spokesperson said only the government's supporters were able to observe the vote counts.
U Ko Ko Gyi, a Mandalay NLD member who voted in the referendum and asked to observe the vote count, was told by a polling station officer he would be able to do so and would be telephoned when the process began.
But by the time Ko Ko Gyi arrived, the votes had already been counted and he was told he would be informed of the results in the future.
"According to law, all polling stations were supposed to close at 4pm but they stopped the referendum in Tharawaddy at around 10am. No local or international observers was allowed to monitor
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