[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 3/6/08
- Junta forcibly evicts cyclone victims from shelters
- A case for crimes against humanity
- Burmese troops deployed to coastal, border areas
- Soaring prices compound Myanmar's cyclone misery
- Jakarta proposes to use cyclone in push for radical change in Burma
- Than Shwe's days are numbered
- Burma calls for assistance and aid with "no strings attached"
- Burmese still suffering, says Thai medical team
- Burma allows entry to aid workers at snail's pace
- Help is scant in Myanmar village deep inside delta
- Asean steps in where others may not tread
- The misery will continue if the world just watches
- Iron grip of junta despite cyclone
- For Than Shwe, to hell with compromise
- Loyalty of Burmese troops doubted after cyclone disaster
Junta forcibly evicts cyclone victims from shelters - Mungpi
Mizzima News: Mon 2 Jun 2008
In what is a likely move to indicate that the emergency relief phase is over in cyclone hit-regions, the Burmese military junta authorities have ordered refugees to vacate several camps in the Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions, local aid workers and refugees said.
An aid worker, who has just returned from Kun Chan Kone Township in Rangoon division said, authorities have driven away refugees from several camps in the township. They were forced to return to their villages with assurances of some aid.
"I saw refugees from two schools and a monastery in Kun Chan Kone leaving for their villages. Those who did not want to leave were being forcibly removed to an open field," said the aid worker, who requested that he and his organization not be named.
A local resident of Rangoon, who returned from Dae Da Ye township in Irrawaddy division on May 31, said several camps, which were temporarily built by the government for refugees, have been vacated with refugees being forced to return to their villages.
"I did not see anymore refugees in the camps, where they were taking shelter. All of them have been sent back to their villages," the local said.
Burma's military rulers have long declared that it had passed the phase of emergency relief for refugees and is now concentrating in re-building and re-construction.
But the United Nations, the refugees and local aid workers, who had been helping the cyclone victims, all said the emergency relief phase is far from over.
The UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon, who in May visited Burma's Irrawaddy delta, the worst hit by Cyclone Nargis, said the emergency relief phase' will continue for at least six months, while reconstructing and rebuilding carries on side-by-side.
The local aid worker said while aid is now moving in to places in the Irrawaddy delta, there are still several areas that aid agencies, both domestic and international, cannot reach.
"While we were there in Kun Chan Kone, a few people from the villages came and asked us to supply their village with aid. They said they have not seen any form of aid coming to their village," the aid worker said.
He added that several villages cannot be reached due to lack of routes for communication and transportation.
"It is impossible to reach these villages because there are no roads, and the only way to get in is along the water way or by aircraft," he added.
But efforts by the World Food Programme to use helicopters for supplying aid to remote areas has been delayed by government procedures, said WFP's Executive Director Josette Sheeran, who visited the cyclone-hit areas in the weekend.
Meanwhile, the authorities have also forced farmers in the cyclone hit areas to begin work on their fields, which are still inundated with flood water, as the monsoon rain starts pouring.
A farmer in Kun Chan Kone, who lost all his cattle, said, "Authorities promised to give us two tractors per village but till now we have not got any. And we are finding it difficult to start work."
The farmer said, working in the fields has been their passion but being forced to return to work without any support and implements is meaningless and a torture after the trauma of the cyclone that killed so many families and near and dear ones.
"But we will have to get back to the fields and start working," the farmer said.
According to an Emergency Analyst in the New Delhi based UNDP's Disaster Management section, lands that have been inundated with seawater will suffer from infertility and cannot be immediately used till the salinity is reduced or washed away.
G. Padmanabham, the UNDP's Emergency Analyst, earlier told Mizzima, "Land cannot become fertile again for cultivation and it could affect productivity in that region because of the high percentage of salt having been condensed in the land."
Burma's Deputy Defence Minister Aye Myint, during an Asian security meeting in Singapore during the weekend, said the authorities have promptly provided relief to all cyclone victims and that it is concentrating now on reconstruction and rehabilitation work.
But leaders from other countries attending the forum were not convinced with French delegates threatening that they will push the French government to propose a UN resolution that could hold the Burmese government liable to be brought before the International Criminal Court.
A case for crimes against humanity - Wai Moe [News Analysis]
Irrawaddy: Mon 2 Jun 2008
The Burmese military regime's failure to respond effectively to Cyclone Nargis, its refusal to allow foreign relief workers access to the affected areas and its forcible eviction of refugees from shelters and health facilities amounts to crimes against humanity, according to Burma's opposition and several prominent international figures.
Under international law, a "crime against humanity" is an act of persecution or any large scale atrocities against a body of people, and is the highest level of criminal offense. The term was first used in relation to the post-World War II Nuremburg Trials when Nazi leaders were tried for war crimes.
In 1996, the UN General Assembly recognized the racial persecutions of the former South African government's Apartheid system as crimes against humanity.
The terminology was broadened in 1998 when the International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up in The Hague and a treaty known as the Rome Statute was introduced.
Under the Rome Statute, "Crimes against Humanity" was described as acts "committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population."
Those acts include systematic murder, rape, enslavement and imprisonment. According to US-based rights group Human Rights First, the case against the Burmese junta would also incorporate crimes against humanity in terms of: forced displacement of ethnic minorities; forced labor; recruitment of child soldiers; extrajudicial killings; and torture.
As of June 2008, 106 member nations had ratified the Rome Statute; however, most notably, the US, China and Burma have refused to ratify the treaty.
Thein Nyunt, a member of the legal panel on Burma's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the Burmese authorities had committed a crime against humanity by ignoring the crisis caused by Cyclone Nargis.
Tropical cyclone Nargis hammered lower Burma, including the Irrawaddy delta, and the country's largest city, Rangoon, on May 2-3. The cyclone has claimed as many as 134,000 deaths and affected about 2.4 million people. Survivors claim that no immediate relief was provided by the state in the aftermath of the disaster.
"From a legal point of view, blocking aid for cyclone victims was not only breaking international law, but also Burma's own criminal code," said the NLD lawyer. "Under Burmese criminal law, failure to save lives in a disaster situation is noted under criminal laws 269 and 270."
Last week, cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta were forced to return to their villages which were totally destroyed and uninhabitable, according to numerous independent reports.
Thein Nyunt said that by forcing cyclone survivors to return to their villages is also a form of crime as it breaks the Burmese military government's agreement with the International Labor Organization (ILO) on banning forced relocation in Burma.
"The SPDC's (the State Peace and Development Council, the official title of the junta) refusal to allow more aid to the delta has contributed to a large number of fatalities," said David Mathieson, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch in Bangkok.
He said it was still too early to determine whether the junta's actions constitute a crime against humanity. However, the crisis is "suddenly, a very serious situation," Mathieson said, which "should be investigated by the UN Security Council."
Human rights advocates and legal groups in Canada and Europe also say the military regime's blocking of aid to cyclone victims has cost tens of thousands of lives.
Advocates of prosecuting the junta say that they must go through the UN Security Council first before filing a motion with the ICC.
Mathieson said that although China and Russia would probably veto any motion against Burma at the Security Council, the issue of crimes against humanity should be pursued.
Burma watchers also accuse the Burmese regime of being preoccupied with holding a national referendum on May 10 at a time when it could have been saving lives in the delta.
Meanwhile, several prominent exiled Burmese groups and international bodies lined up to condemn the Burmese junta. The words "crimes against humanity" were never far from their lips.
Bo Kyi, the joint- secretary of a Burmese human rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said the Burmese military regime knew that a massive number of people had died in the wake of the cyclone. However, the top generals ignored the death and destruction and went ahead with its constitutional referendum, he said.
Robert Gates, the US Secretary of Defense, said on Sunday that the Burmese regime was guilty of "criminal neglect" for blocking large-scale international aid to cyclone victims.
And the European Parliament stated on its Web site that the Burmese military junta's behavior with regard to relief work during the cyclone disaster was a "crime against humanity," and suggested that the Burmese leadership face international justice.
"Blocking food and medicine for cyclone survivors is extermination," said Aung Htoo, the secretary of the Burma Lawyers' Council. "If this case does not go to the ICC, then many more people will die."
Burmese troops deployed to coastal, border areas - Min Lwin
Irrawaddy: Mon 2 Jun 2008
The Burmese military has been deploying infantry battalions and air defense artillery battalions close to the Thai-Burmese border area of Mon and Karen States and Tenasserim Division since late May, according to sources in the area.
"Burmese troops are on high alert in Mon State," said Aue Mon of the Human Rights Foundation of Mon Land. "The Burmese military government has deployed additional troops along the coasts of Mon State and Tenasserim Division."
He said that he believed the reinforcements were a precaution against a possible military intervention.
"Military Operation Command 19, which consists of 10 battalions, has been stationed in Kawzar Village, in Mon State's Yee Township," he said.
Mon sources also said that an artillery battalion with radar and air defense capabilities has been stationed in Anankwin Village, about 60 km from Three Pagoda Pass, since late May. The battalion belongs to Artillery Division 606, based in Thaton Township.
Analysts say that after border tensions arose between Burma and Thailand in 2001, the Burmese military increased its deployment of air defense artillery battalions in southern Burma. There are also 12 artillery battalions in Tenasserim Division under the command of Artillery Division 505, headquartered in Mergui Township, and 11 artillery battalions in Mon and Karen States, under the command of Artillery Division 606.
Meanwhile, the Burmese military government has also increased its deployment of light infantry battalions in cyclone-affected areas of Irrawaddy Division, since late May.
A resident of Laputta Township said some 3,000 Burmese soldiers from Light Infantry Divisions 66 and 11 were sent to areas hit by Cyclone Nargis last week. LID 66 is based in Pegu Division's Prone Township, and LID 11 is based in Yemon Village, in Rangoon Division's Hlegu Township.
The resident said the light infantry battalions were stationed in at least 6 outposts in Laputta Township and were responsible for the distribution of rice and other supplies to survivors of cyclone.
Ohn Kyaing, a spokesperson for a relief team sponsored by the opposition National League for Democracy, returned from Pyinsalu, Laputta Township on Sunday and told The Irrawaddy on Monday that security forces, including riot police, are also stationed along the Rangoon-Dedaye road in Kungyangone Township.
Htay Aung, a Burmese defense researcher based in Thailand, said that the Burmese military government deployed the troops along the coastal region and in the delta because it fears humanitarian intervention by the international community.
"Another possible reason the Burmese troops are being deployed along the border is political instability in a neighboring country," he said, referring to recent rumors of a possible coup in Thailand.
Soaring prices compound Myanmar's cyclone misery - Aung Hla Tun
Reuters: Mon 2 Jun 2008
Yangon - A large "Happy World" sign hangs above a dilapidated food market in Yangon, but on the streets shoppers are far from content.
A month after Cyclone Nargis scythed a path of destruction through Myanmar's former capital and Irrawaddy delta, leaving 134,000 dead or missing, those spared by the storm are struggling to cope with soaring prices for food and fuel.
"Of course everyone is unhappy, but nobody dares complain," stall-owner Daw Ngee Yee said as her offerings of fruit and vegetables wilted under a hot afternoon sun.
Ordinary life in Myanmar, already tough in one of Asia's most impoverished nations after 46 years of military rule, has become much harder since the cyclone devastated the country's rice bowl.
A 50 kg bag of rice now sells for 38,000 kyat, or about $34.50, up from 27,000 kyat before the storm flooded more than one million acres of arable land with seawater.
Peanut oil, used for cooking, has jumped nearly 40 percent to 5,500 kyat for a 2 kg container.
In a country where government workers earn $30 a month or less, people often spend around two thirds of their income to put meals on the table.
"The rich are okay, but while prices go up, salaries stay the same. We have to eat smaller meals," 27-year-old Ma Oo said as she inspected tied bunches of vegetable greens at the market.
But Ma Oo, who moved to Yangon two months ago in search of a better life, counts herself lucky to have some food to buy in Yangon where life is slowly getting back to what passed for normal before the cyclone.
FOOD AID APPEAL
Four weeks on, Myanmar's reclusive junta is gradually and grudgingly opening up to foreign aid and expertise. It has handed out more visas to foreign experts, but access to the delta remains restricted.
The U.N. World Food Programme said it has given 575,000 people their first ration of rice, "but many people have not been reached, and others are now due a second round of distributions."
WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said its $70 million food aid program faced a 64-percent funding shortfall, as did its logistics plan which includes boats, trucks and helicopters.
"With current contributions, we will run out of food by mid-July," Sheeran said after a weekend visit to Myanmar.
With markets back to normal in Yangon, WFP and four NGOs have begun handing out cash, about 50 U.S. cents per person/per day, to help people buy their own food.
That has allowed the WFP to focus on delivering aid to the hardest-hit delta where most food stocks were destroyed and few markets survived the storm.
Authorities have pushed ahead with a campaign, condemned by human rights groups and deemed "unacceptable" by the U.N., of evictions of displaced people from government shelters.
The last camp in Kawhmu, a district south of Yangon, was closed on Monday, witnesses said of the closures which appeared aimed at stopping the "tented" villages from becoming permanent.
"We have nowhere to go and we don't know any other life except farming and fishing," U Kyi, who fled to the camp with his wife days after the cyclone, said on Friday.
The evictions came on the heels of last week's official media criticism of foreign donors' demands for access to the delta, saying that cyclone victims could "stand by themselves."
Under fire for its slow response to the disaster, a junta general insisted on Sunday his government had acted swiftly and it remained open to foreign aid "with no strings attached."
But the patience of Western donors is wearing thin.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who accused the regime of "criminal neglect" and causing more deaths by stonewalling foreign aid, said on Sunday U.S. ships cruising near Myanmar could leave in a "matter of days."
Gates, on a regional tour after attending a security conference in Singapore, discussed Myanmar with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej in Bangkok on Sunday.
Samak told the Pentagon chief the junta had rejected a big international aid effort partly because the generals feared it could be seen as an invasion, a senior U.S. defense official said.
"That was the clear inference," the official said. "He was not justifying it in any way, he was just saying this is what they tell me."
(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray in BANGKOK)
Jakarta proposes to use cyclone in push for radical change in Burma - Greg Sheridan
The Australian: Mon 2 Jun 2008
Indonesia is planning a bold new initiative on Burma, aiming to use the flux created by Cyclone Nargis to push through far-reaching change.
A group of think tank analysts and former senior officials have formulated a detailed plan, which is under consideration in the office of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
This would involve Indonesia commissioning a special envoy on Burma. One name mooted for this position is former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas,
Indonesia would convene a dialogue group of Burma's key Asian neighbours and partners, including China, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.
The aim of the plan would be to find a settlement between the Burmese Government of General Than Shwe and the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest.
The authors of the plan believe it would need to furnish Burma's rulers with three assurances.
The first is time. A long transition phase, perhaps as much as 15 years, would be needed for the settlement to unfold.
The second is regime and territorial security. It would be necessary to reassure Burma's paranoid rulers that no one would attempt or support any violent regime change.
The third requirement would to help Burma in dealing with its ethnic minorities, some of which are concentrated in what are effectively territorial insurgencies.
One model the Burmese would be offered is Indonesia's abandoned dwifungsi, or dual function, for the military. Under dwifungsi, the military had both a security and political role in Indonesia for years.
The Indonesian President has yet to decide on the plan, which could be called the Jakarta Initiative on Myanmar.
The acronym, JIM, would have a strong echo of the successful Cambodian peace plan of the 1990s, in which Indonesia played a central role and which was prosecuted for a time under theJakarta Informal Meetings process.
The record of failure on Burma is long, and the Indonesian administration has no desire to add to it. But Indonesian officials say the opportunity arising out of Cylcone Nargis's devastation may last only a matter of weeks.
Indonesian officials believe the experience of Aceh is instructive. The Aceh peace agreement is one of Dr Yudhoyono's proudest achievements. Indonesian officials say Jakarta's ability to act quickly after the 2004 tsunami was the key to success.
Jakarta and ASEAN have yet to receive sufficient recognition for engineering the junta's change of heart in allowing outside aid into Burma, Indonesian officials say.
Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Hasan Wirajuda, discussed Burma last Friday with a visiting group of Australian editors.
He emphasised that Indonesia's priority was to bring immediate emergency assistance to Burma's cyclone victims.
He said France had briefly proposed bringing Burma's situation to the UN Security Council under the general humanitarian right to intervene. Indonesia, China and Vietnam had opposed this move.
Indonesia and other ASEAN nations had talks with Burma to make it open up to aid. "I myself said Myanmar should take steps like Indonesia took after the (2004) tsunami, and open its country wide to international relief efforts,'' Mr Wirajuda said.
He said he "did not believe'' Burma's claim that it would need $US11billion ($11.5billion) in international aid.
Mr Wirajuda was not asked directly about the proposed Indonesian plan for Burma, which still has no official status. However, he expressed the frustration that ASEAN feels over its most recalcitrant member. "On the political side, we must admit we are all frustrated. ASEAN thought when we admitted Myanmar (Burma) in 1997 that we could change Myanmar through constructive engagement. That was not the case. Likewise, those who favour sanctions and pressure are frustrated they could not change Myanmar either,'' he said.
"Yes, political and human rights concerns are central. But there are also Myanmar's concerns about its security and territorial integrity. We urge people to see the situation more broadly.
"Realistically, we cannot expect radical change immediately. A transitional period must be there. Perhaps the military can exercise a dual function, as we had under President Suharto. That could be useful as a transitional phase.
"Secondly, there is a greater expectation for ASEAN to play a bigger role, but when the President and I visited Myanmar we found it very comfortable with its relations with China and India.
"So when (US) President (George W.) Bush at APEC (in Sydney) asked President Yudhoyono whatto do about Myanmar, he said, `Please, Mr Bush, talk to China and India'.''
The Indonesian Foreign Minister said Jakarta was exploring at the UN a dialogue at ambassadorial level between Burma and key Asian neighbours.
"Unlike some ASEAN members, Indonesia prefers to maintain its engagement (with Burma),'' Mr Wirajuda said.
Than Shwe's days are numbered [Editorial]
Irrawaddy: Mon 2 Jun 2008
Burma's military leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, has been accused of committing a "crime against humanity," as evidence mounts that his refusal to allow a meaningful relief effort in the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta has put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.
A month after Cyclone Nargis slammed into Burma, relief supplies are still not reaching large numbers of survivors. Meanwhile, there are reports that many of those who have received some assistance are already being told to leave their temporary shelters and return to their flattened villages. On Friday, United Nations officials confirmed that refugees were being evicted from government-run camps.
The decision to essentially abort the relief mission before it has barely had a chance to begin comes straight from Than Shwe, who rules from his distant capital, Naypyidaw.
Recently, the senior leader held a cabinet meeting and reportedly told ministers and army leaders that the Tatmadaw, or armed forces, could handle the crisis in the delta on its own. Some senior leaders who wanted to accept more international aid were said to have been disappointed by Than Shwe's stubborn resistance to the idea.
After the cabinet meeting, a rumor spread among Burmese suggesting that some of Than Shwe's loyal ministers and family members held a ceremony to pay their respects to his leadership, praising him for his decision to move the capital to Naypyidaw, far beyond the range of the cyclone.
The unexplained decision to shift the capital to central Burma in 2005 may have spared Than Shwe and his family from the deadly storm, but it won't save him from the consequences of his failure to do anything about the devastation in the delta.
Because Cyclone Nargis struck an area known as Burma's "rice bowl," the economic impact of the disaster will eventually reach every corner of the country. As poverty deepens and infectious diseases spread beyond the delta, the consequences for the country will be dire.
A month after the cyclone, it is not Than Shwe who is saving lives. Burma's monks, activists, civil society groups, local NGOs and even celebrities are reaching out to refugees with food, relief supplies and money. They are the heroes of Burma.
People from as far away as Shan and Kachin States are traveling to the delta to help. Exiled Burmese groups are raising funds to support independent relief groups. Churches and temples are working together to help refugees. Thai and Burmese medical workers coordinate their efforts to deliver relief supplies and paddy seeds to farmers.
Meanwhile, the regime's mouthpiece newspapers are telling farmers to be self-reliant by foraging on water cloves and frogs. People in the rest of the world can only shake their heads and wonder what the generals are thinking.
Listen to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "It's not been us that have been deaf and dumb in response to the pleas of the international community, but the government of Myanmar [Burma]. We have reached out; they have kept their hands in their pockets."
Gates, who was speaking at the Asia Security Summit, which was held in Singapore from May 30 to June 1, expressed his frustration over the regime's refusal to allow relief missions into Burma. US, French and British naval vessels were waiting near Burmese waters to deliver aid to the delta but were not allowed in.
Now France has withdrawn its ships, and the US has indicated that it will do the same soon if it cannot obtain permission to enter Burma.
Recently the international media reported that the regime had approved all pending visas for UN aid workers. But this doesn't mean that the devastated country will soon be crawling with hundreds or thousands of competent, compassionate and fully equipped aid workers. The actual number of pending visas was 45.
And here's more "good" news: Save the Children, Medecins sans Frontieres and the United Nations Children's Fund have just sent in another 14 aid workers.
Than Shwe is now clearly committing humanitarian crimes. It is time for Burma's democratic forces inside and outside the country to think of a better strategy to remove the Than Shwe regime. They have to show that there is an alternative to Than Shwe.
The international community and neighboring countries must also continue to pressure the regime and help refugees in the delta. They must speak with one united voice. The Than Shwe regime is not sustainable.
Without Than Shwe, we will be able to save many lives and rebuild a new Burma.
Burma calls for assistance and aid with "no strings attached"
Deutsche Presse Agentur/The nation: 1/6/08
Singapore - Burma 's Deputy Defence Minister Aye Myint said Sunday that assistance and aid provided with genuine goodwill from any country or organisation would be welcomed providing there "are no strings attached" or politicization.
In contrast to criticism from many of the 27 defence ministers and officials at a forum in Singapore over Burma's three-week holdup of their donations and slow pace of getting supplies to the survivors of the May 3 cyclone, Aye Myint said assistance is being provided.
"The relief supplies from abroad via aircrafts were sent directly and continuously to the relief camps by motor vehicles, helicopters and vessels," he told the 300 participants on the last day of the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defence forum.
Donations will be accepted by land, sea or air, Aye Myint said.
"For those groups who are interested in rehabilitation and reconstruction, we are ready to accept them in accordance with our priority and the extent of work that needs to be done," he said.
He assured the conference that the military government is fully cooperating with UN agencies and international non-government organisations (NGOs).
"Arrangements could be made for the donors and the international community to go to the cyclone-hit areas to observe the situation there," Aye Myint offered.
He also invited "experts and well-wishers" to extend their help in formulating preventive measure to minimize casualties and damages in the event of another severe cyclone in the future."
Aye Myint said 77,738 people were confirmed dead; 55,917 were still missing and 19,359 were injured. He estimated public and private property loss at 10.6 billion dollars.
Emphasis is currently on the second phase of relief, he said, involving resettlement, rebuilding of the destroyed houses and building new houses.
The first phase was emergency search and rescue, he said, while the third will be rehabilitation of businesses and productive forces.
Four weeks after the disaster, the United Nations says less than half of the 2.4 million people affected have received any form of help from the government, international or local aid groups.
"When the needs of a population exceed the national capacity to respond, governments should take advantage of the help offered by international actors," said Dr Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"When they are reluctant or tardy in accepting assistance, on the grounds that they are preserving their sovereignty and want no interference in their domestic affairs, the results may well be many preventable deaths among their people," he told the conference.
"As far as France is concerned, the commercial ship we sent with food and water stayed offshore for eight days and ended up in Thailand," said French Defence Minister Herve Morin. "NGOs are conveying the goods."
"This is happening rather late," he told a news conference. Morin said he had not talked with the conference participants from Burma. "A dialogue with Myanmar has a tendency to chill goodwill," he said.
A team from the Association of South-East Asian Nations is scheduled to spend two weeks in Burma assessing how best to help the survivors.
Burmese still suffering, says Thai medical team
Stress, disease and infections rampant
The Burmese are still suffering from stress and diseases in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, a doctor who led the first Thai medical team dispatched to the country said yesterday. Pichit Siriwan, of Chulalongkorn Hospital and the Thai Red Cross Society, said people living in lowland areas were the hardest hit, made homeless by the cyclone.
They lived under stress and most suffered from respiratory diseases and food-borne and water-borne infections, he told reporters.
About 200 camps were set up, accommodating about 1,000, according to Dr Pichit, the team leader of the unit of 18 doctors and 12 nurses. He added that the Thai team treated 3,700 sick people from those camps and surrounding areas. About 1,900 of the patients were children whose parents were killed in the disaster.
The unit returned to Bangkok yesterday after leaving on May 17 to assist the victims. The Thai doctors also organised activities to help the mental health of the victims.
''The Burmese appreciated the kindness of the Thai doctors,'' Dr Pichit said, adding that Burmese doctors wanted more Thai medical teams to help them look after victims.
More doctors from Thailand were willing to go if the Burmese leaders allow future missions.
Dr Pichit said Thai businessmen in Burma also helped arrange for translators to overcome the language barrier during the relief operation.
Burma allows entry to aid workers at snail's pace - Solomon
Mizzima News: Sat 31 May 2008
The Burmese military junta is allowing entry to aid workers into the cyclone devastated areas at snail's pace. As a result a huge number of survivors continue to be deprived off any kind of support. This despite the regime's recent permission allowing access to aid workers in to cyclone hit regions, officials of Medicines Sans Frontiers said.
"We are aware that some villages have not received any kind of help yet," said Dr. Frank Smithius, chief of the MSF team in Burma.
This is a fall out of lack of communication and difficulties in transportation and slow distribution of aid, Dr. Smithius added.
Following Burma's military supremo Senior General Than Shwe's meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, aid agencies said a few international aid workers have been provided access into the Irrawaddy delta, where the cyclone wreaked the worst havoc.
"Four weeks have elapsed after the storm and I think it is quite sad that many villages have not yet received aid," Dr. Smithius said.
Domestic volunteers and national aid workers in Rangoon said, access to the delta area has recently been made possible for both international and domestic aid agencies.
But with communication problems and difficulties in transportation, aid has not reached many places in the remote areas.
"There are many more areas yet to be accessed," an aid worker in Rangoon told Mizzima.
The aid worker said, though access has been granted to aid workers with few supplies, it is not enough for all the affected people.
"Emergency supply is not over yet, I think that all organisations should make serious efforts to reach all the villages," Dr. Smithius, head of MSF said.
Help is scant in Myanmar village deep inside delta
Associated Press: Sat 31 May 2008
Pyinmagon, Myanmar Peering out from under the hood of his raincoat, the boat skipper squinted as he tried to steer his small wooden boat through the narrow, twisting channel leading to a village deep in Myanmar's cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta.
Pyinmagon's location is typical of the delta, and cause of the region's still unfolding tragedy: The rice-farming village can only be reached by boat, a trip of up to two hours, depending on the tide, from the nearest town of Bogalay.
Most of the journey requires slow maneuvering in shallow waters known to be inhabited by crocodiles. So, a month after Cyclone Nargis struck, Pyinmagon's 801 survivors have been left to basically fend for themselves.
"I don't know why nobody came, maybe they were discussing it for a long time, maybe they had problems trying to deliver the help," said Myint Oo, 55, the village chief, standing Thursday outside the Buddhist monastery where most of the survivors are being housed.
The village, which sits in the middle of an almond-shaped island that splits the Bogalay River, lost a quarter of its people, and all but three houses and the monastery were destroyed. Its livestock, rice supply and crops were wiped out, and its only drinking water source was polluted by salt water and debris.
The military regime's response to the crisis has been slow and inadequate everywhere, but never more so than in places such as Pyinmagon.
The stream connecting the village to Bogalay River is only 4- to 6-feet deep, making it impassable to most vessels carrying big shipments of aid. Only narrow wooden rowboats or those powered by a small diesel engine with a propeller attached to the end of a long shaft can make the trip.
Short palm trees, patches of mangrove and thick long grass grow on the tall muddy embankments along the channel, blocking view of the route ahead. The monsoon season's daily heavy downpours have also hindered travel.
When no help came in the first week after the storm, the survivors lived on what little rice they could salvage, although much of it was damaged by sea water carried by the cyclone's 12-foot storm surge. They scavenged for vegetable scraps and caught rats, but still many went hungry.
By the second week, only 50 sacks of rice from local authorities had reached them, but that was depleted almost immediately, Myint Oo said.
The headman said an international aid group told the villagers it would provide rice for them for the next six months, but he was not hopeful the pledge could be fulfilled. Pyinmagon is a more than seven-hour journey by car and boat from Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.
"We are worried it's not going to happen because everything has been uncertain," he said. "I'm afraid our rice will run out soon."
On Thursday, nearly a month after the cyclone hit, the village received its first private donation, a local trading company that brought clothes, he said.
Other basics are sorely lacking.
The small reservoir the villagers once used for drinking water was muddy with silt and sea water carried from the river during the storm, and a large fallen tree still lay in it. Villagers have been taking boats to fetch water from a lake in Bogalay and have collected rainwater in a few large ceramic pots, using broken pieces of corrugated roofing as makeshift funnels.
Villagers pointed to a large wooden box that used to store feed for their animals, emptied by the storm. But that was of little significance since their herd of 1,000 water buffaloes, 80 pigs and 400 chickens had all perished.
Though donations of food would be welcome, the survivors said they want to quickly regain self-sufficiency.
"What we need is buffaloes and seeds to grow rice again," Myint Oo said.
Shelter is also an urgent issue. Villagers worked outside in the rain, tying bamboo poles together to make temporary huts, but the headman said they could not be used unless they received tarpaulins or plastic sheets to waterproof the roofs.
In the meantime, the survivors have been sleeping on mats on the wooden floor of the monastery. Short, round wooden tables, cabinets, kitchen utensils and other salvaged pieces of furniture were also stored there.
Without mosquito nets or blankets, the survivors were defenseless against mosquitoes, which thrive in the rainy season and carry diseases like dengue fever, which is endemic in many Southeast Asian countries.
A Myanmar Red Cross team visited the village last week for the first time, survivors said, but it was too late for three of the villagers a man and two children who they said died from diarrhea and food poisoning.
One of Mar Mar Oo's twin daughters has been running a fever and coughing for 15 days.
"The medical workers gave her medicine, but I don't know whether it will last until the next doctor comes," the young mother said, frowning as she tucked the 3-year-old girls under a pale blue cloth for an afternoon nap in the monastery.
The monastery's corrugated metal roof was riddled with holes that let rain drip in, forming puddles on the floor.
For farmers, rain is usually a blessing, but these days, it's also a curse that haunts many survivors.
Curled into a tight ball in a corner of the monastery, Kyin Mya jumped as raindrops fell from the leaking roof.
"Is the wind strong? Is the wind strong?" the 59-year-old woman asked, her eyes wide with fear, her hand trembling as she tried to eat a biscuit.
Her husband and 5-year-old granddaughter drowned as they were carried away in the storm surge.
Echoing a common fear that speaks of the trauma experienced by the survivors, Kyin Mya asked: "Do you know if another storm is coming?"
Asean steps in where others may not tread - Marwaan Macan-Marker
Inter Press Service: Sat 31 May 2008
Four weeks after Cyclone Nargis swept through the populous Irrawaddy delta in Burma, a regional effort to help the victims is slowly grinding into shape.
On Friday, Burma's military regime announced that Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu would be its main representative in a tripartite core group, based in the former capital Rangoon, to coordinate the international aid effort. It marked another shift by the notoriously secretive junta, which had placed hurdles in the way of any outside intervention during the first three weeks after the cyclone struck in the early hours of May 3.
The humanitarian task force is being led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a 10-member regional bloc, of which Burma is a member. The United Nations will be the third party in this tripartite initiative, which was agreed upon during an international conference to raise funds for the cyclone victims held in Rangoon on May 25.
"A Herculean task has been thrust upon us, the UN and Asean, to bring humanitarian assistance for the cyclone victims," Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of Asean, told journalists this week. "Asean and the UN and our co-partners will not fail the victims of cyclone Nargis."
"We have been able to establish a space, a humanitarian space, however small to engage with the Myanmar [Burmese] authorities," he added. "That humanitarian space needs to be sustained through political decisions, through political flexibility."
These are brave words, indeed, for Surin, a former Thai foreign minister, given the way Asean has had to endure the troubles brought on it since Burma joined the bloc over a decade ago. Asean had stood by its troublesome member in the interest of regional solidarity, throwing a cloak to shield it from international condemnation and sanctions stemming from the junta's growing list of human rights violations.
Yet at times, even Asean's protective policy, driven by the principles of "non-interference" in the domestic affairs of a member-nation, appeared to have its limits. There have been calls in recent years by some of Asean's outspoken leaders to throw Burma out of the group when the abuse of the local population by the junta went too far.
Asean's members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, in addition to Burma. It was formed in 1967, during the height of the Cold War, to stop the spread of communism in the region and to advance a free-market economic agenda. But its relevance on the international stage has waned after the end of the Cold War and the financial crisis that swept through the region in the 1990s.
No wonder some critics of the junta in the region worry that the military regime will try to abuse the goodwill Asean has extended to Burma in the same way that it has done before.
"The Burmese regime is well aware that Asean's leaders will be softer on them than other governments in the international community. The junta has hoodwinked Asean before and it could happen again," says Roshan Jason, spokesman for the Asean Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, a group of South-east Asian parliamentarians championing political reform in Burma.
"Asean's credibility is now on the line by stepping into this role," he added during a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur. "The regional leaders have to show political will and to act tough with the Burmese regime to achieve results. They cannot let the junta manipulate the situation by taking cover behind the policy of non-interference."
For now, Surin wants to give the Burmese regime, led by the reclusive strongman, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the benefit of the doubt. It is necessary to help build confidence and trust for the Asean Humanitarian Task Force to make headway. "We have detected a difference, we have detected a positive difference, and we hope this can be sustained," he said.
A significant achievement in this regard is Asean convincing the regime that the relief phase since the cyclone is far from over. It put an end to the junta's claims by the third week since Nargis that relief efforts for the cyclone-victims had ended and what was needed was financial assistance for the recovery and rehabilitation phase. The junta stated that Burma needed US $10.7 billion for the rehabilitation phase.
According to Asean's plans, a rapid assessment team will survey the terrain in South-western Burma that was devastated by the country's worst natural disaster to spell out the shape of relief efforts to aid the victims. That report is due in mid-June.
Yet even such an effort is revealing of the neglect the cyclone's victims have had to endure when set against the normal response to natural disasters in other parts of the world. "By now there should have been distribution hubs up and running for relief goods," John Sparrow, spokesman for the Asia-Pacific division of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told IPS. "Clean water should have been distributed. But there still is a huge shortage of clean water."
But for that, proper assessments of the disaster areas have to be done soon after the disaster. That was the case when the IFRC responded to post-disaster situations such as the December 2004 tsunami. "Proper assessments have not been done to help figure out the needs, unlike the tsunami," Sparrow added. "There are still areas where we have no access."
The human toll from Cyclone Nargis ranges from 130,000 to as high as 300,000 deaths. The people affected and in need of relief in the Irrawaddy Delta range from 2.5 million to four million.
Such high numbers stem from the force of the storm, whipping up wind speeds of 190 km per hour and a wall of sea water that rose 3.5 meters high. It affected an 82,000 square km area that has the highest population density in the country.
The misery will continue if the world just watches - Yeni
Irrawaddy: Sat 31 May 2008
Burma's cyclone survivors have endured a seemingly endless series of heartbreaks and hazards over the past month.
The Burmese junta's so-called "rehabilitation and rebuilding" plan has resulted in the forcible eviction from shelters of tens of thousands of refugeespeople who have already suffered from the trauma of losing their families and friends, their homes, property, possessions and livelihoods during the devastation of Cyclone Nargis on May 23.
Four weeks after the disaster, the United Nations says less than half of the 2.4 million people affected by the cyclone have received any form of help from either the government or aid organizations.
In its latest report, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization says food shortages along with escalating prices "posed a risk to national security." Rice prices in Rangoon have doubled while prices of staples, such as salt, have tripled in price.
So it is not surprised to learn that starving cyclone survivors have lined the highways to beg for food from passing cars and trucks. Private donors, emotionally affected by the sight of such human suffering, have loaded their vehicles with food and supplies and driven out to the rural delta areas to deliver the aid by themselves.
However, tending to the sick, injured and malnourished is not one of the Burmese government's priorities.
The cynical regime even announced that the impoverished cyclone victims could "stand by themselves."
The newspaper Kyemon lashed out at foreign aid in a Burmese-language editorial: "The people from Irrawaddy can survive on self-reliance without chocolate bars donated by foreign countries."
Military strongman Snr-Gen Than Shwe has a well-earned reputation for ruthlessness and callousness. This time, though, he has left most people speechless with his total lack of humanity.
Police, soldiers and immigration officers have staged roadblocks to question donors on the main routes from Rangoon into the devastated towns of the Irrawaddy Delta, and warned volunteers against making "disorderly" donations, threatening to suspend their driving licenses.
The merciless generals are proving to the world how much they look down on the cyclone survivors.
"The people should learn to feed themselves," an official told donors. "We do not want foreigners to think we are a country of beggars."
In the meantime, Asean and the UNofficial partners with Burma in coordinating the international aid effortcould only sit and watch from the comfort of their offices as the Burmese authorities mismanaged the resettlement program for cyclone survivors just a few days after having approved all pending visas for UN relief workers to enter the country.
Burma's cyclone survivors are doomed. The Burmese regime has dumped them in the approximate location of the flattened villages, with no food, no water, no livelihood and no future. They face more hunger, disease and suffering.
On Friday, in a remarkable show of pomposity, the regime announced to the media that starvation was not an issue, because "farmers can gather water clover or go out with lamps at night and catch plump frogs."
The international community has sat back in its collective armchair and allowed the Burmese military junta to commit murder with impunity.
If the cyclone survivors can eat frogs, then surely the UN can eat humble pie and admit to its failings. If the world organs do not force their will over the Burmese regime, the people of the Irrawaddy delta will have to suffer a second catastrophea wholly preventable manmade disaster.
Iron grip of junta despite cyclone - May Ng
Mizzima News: Sat 31 May 2008
Cyclone Nargis lashed Burma almost four weeks ago and it is already too late for some survivors. Some have died from lack of emergency aid. With the monsoons approaching, the United Nations' relief experts are racing against time to save the rest of the cyclone victims in the hardest hit areas of Irrawaddy delta. But until a few days ago the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-ASEAN were unable to convince the military in Burma to open up the country for a full fledged humanitarian rescue mission.
On May 25 the United Nations and the ASEAN launched a flash appeal to raise funds for the cyclone victims in Burma. Fifty one countries pledged sixty percent of the $200 million dollar appeal. At the same time the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the secretary general of the ASEAN, Surin Pitsuwan, asked for and were promised unhindered access into the areas hit hard by Cyclone Nargis.
Since then, the Burmese military began granting visas to the United Nations emergency relief workers. But the visa applications are processed one at a time, and each worker must give two days notice before entering the delta area for a 24-hour stay. But other non-governmental organizations are finding that there has been no improvement in getting access into the delta areas as they still need permission from the government ministries and the military, and must be escorted by government personnel.
Activities of relief workers are hindered by the government's bureaucracy that requires official approval for all actions; and many other aid workers and foreign journalists are still barred from the Irrawaddy delta. So far, only 23 percent of the areas hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis has been accessed by aid workers according to the UN.
Interestingly, 10 days after the cyclone slammed into Burma, China was also hit by a devastating earthquake; and in both countries, disasters struck in areas where recent monks' unrest and government crackdowns have taken place. Even though both countries were facing criticism for attacking Buddhist monks and protesters, within days after the earthquake, China began accepting help from foreign countries. But the Burmese military refused to allow most foreign experts into the country during the first three weeks.
Burmese government's strict rule against foreign reporters has also resulted in limited press coverage of the cyclone and subsequently impoverished Burma has received much less aid pledges than China. The backlash against the Burmese governments' indifference to its people's suffering has also contributed to a much smaller than the expected international aid.
While the Burmese junta continues to rebuff the offer of essential aid from the Americans and French NavyChina has been cooperating with the United States and other countries for earthquake relief efforts. After China changed its mind and quickly began accepting foreign assistance, additional financial aid from governments and businesses firms have been flowing in and various diplomatic channels have been opened up for China.
China is also using the occasion to mend its relationship with important neighbours like Japan and Taiwan. Even China's relationship with the Tibetan leaders seems to have eased for the moment, with mutual commitment to help the earthquake victims. Like China, a tremendous window of opportunity was opened for the Burmese military to gracefully end the political quagmire in Burma through diplomatic and economic channels, after the cyclone. But the Burmese generals have not proven themselves to be equal to the task.
Even as China is trying to improve its global image in the run up to the Olympics; China National Petroleum Corporation and Korea's Daewoo International Corp are signing an agreement with the Burmese junta to explore oil and gas in Burma, in the wake of the cyclone disaster. It is estimated that Burma has at least 90 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves and 3.2 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserves in 19 onshore and three major offshore fields. Sean Turnell, a professor at Macquarie University in Australia and a specialist on Burma's economy has estimated that the annual income of up to 17 billion dollars from the oil and gas sale will be channeled into the pockets of the ruling junta.
But the Burmese military is still hoping for another round of UN flash appeal to raise funds for the cyclone victim on June 12, and a follow-up reconstruction aid under the aegis of nine members from the UN, ASEAN, and the Burmese junta. In the mean time official newspapers in Burma are making it clear that while financial aid packages through the government are welcome direct assistance to the cyclone victims are not. In a crueler scenario, soldiers are believed to be evicting cyclone victims from little shelters available to them.
There have been reports of roadblocks and seizing of vehicles and aid supplies heading into the delta; but in the latest reports the government may be taking action to diffuse the tension. Meanwhile the World Health Organization warns of potential outbreak of diseases among cyclone refugees still out of reach in the remote delta region.
Burma in the aftermath of cyclone is in dire straits. Since, Irrawaddy delta and seaside areas affected by the cyclone are major producers of rice, fish, and salt for the rest of Burma, the government's mishandling of the relief and recovery from the cyclone may create serious countrywide food shortages and further political unrest. The soaring global rice and oil prices are also cutting into the budget of humanitarian agencies already on the ground, such as the Thai Burma Border Consortium, a primary provider of food for the border refugees and displaced ethnic minorities. Unless alternative funding can be found to meet the price increase, the border refugees like the cyclone victims will be going hungry soon.
Only months after the violent assault on the country's spiritual leaders, Burma's iron bowl has been cracked by unseen forces. And the cyclone has also disrupted the junta's constitutional referendum, and legitimacy of the military government still remains in doubt, in the wake of the disaster.
While the UN is still struggling with the exact number of dead and injured people after the cyclone, the military junta proceeded to claim an overwhelming 92.48 percent votes for its new constitution. Further testing the credibility of Burmese regime, the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won the 1990 landslide election in Burma, expired on May 24. But the military has decided to extend her house arrest by violating its own law which only allows the government to detain Aung San Suu Kyi for a maximum of five years.
Until now, the Irrawaddy delta has been Burma's lifeblood and a major stabilizing factor for the army's hold on political power. Impact from the cyclone in Burma is staggering and the movement of aid workers inside the disaster zone will no doubt have a lasting political impact on the military's iron grip on power.
Many more people will die in the aftermath of the cyclone from the government's neglect. The damage from lack of humanitarian assistance has been enormous and the repercussion against the junta will be felt long into the future. As more people in Burma and all over the world are waking up to the reality that Burma is much better off without such a ruthless regime the final days of the ruling generals will be numbered.
May Ng is from the Southern Shan State of Burma and NY Regional Director of Justice for Human Rights in Burma.
For Than Shwe, to hell with compromise
This week marks the fifth anniversary of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's detention, after pro-government thugs tried to assassinate her while she was travelling in a motorcade through the north of the country.
She has spent more than 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest in her lakeside residence in Rangoon. For the last four years, she has been in virtual solitary confinement, apart from occasional visits by her doctor to check on her health, and a few meetings with the UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari over the last three years.
On the other hand, Burma's military rulers remain adamant that this diminutive woman is a threat to national security and must be isolated for fear that she will cause disruption to the country. The Burmese strongman, Senior General Than Shwe, told his Chinese counterpart last year that she would continue to be detained until after the elections, planned in two years' time.
As Burma continues to reel from the worse-ever natural disaster to hit the country, which has probably left more than a quarter of a million people dead and at least another three million homeless, there is a stark contrast between the two figures and their vision of Burma's political future, and more importantly, how the country could rebuild after such devastation: Aung San Suu Kyi and Than Shwe.
Already the regime is taking a side-swipe at Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, accusing them of using the cyclone to stir up unrest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many NLD doctors and volunteers are working selflessly in the outskirts of Rangoon and in the Irrawaddy delta, where the cyclone has wreaked untold damage. Completely exhausted, they have been running mobile medical clinics in the affected areas nonstop for four weeks now.
The NLD has also mobilised relief supplies and tried to deliver them to the thousands of desperate refugees that line the roads for kilometres outside Rangoon and the main towns in the delta. Instead of the government welcoming these charitable efforts, soldiers have barred them from passing the roadblocks and confiscated their supplies.
In a time when national unity should be the watch word, Gen Than Shwe wants the army and government to have exclusive control of the relief effort, even if it means risking the lives of millions of survivors who are still in danger of dying from disease and starvation in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.
For the Burmese people, trampled on for more than 40 years by a repressive military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi still represents their aspirations and, above all, their desire for freedom and democracy. They know she would be down in the delta with them if she was not locked up, whereas Gen Than Shwe has made only one cursory visit to the worst-affected areas in the last four weeks.
Aung San Suu Kyi's people-first policy would certainly be evident now if she was able to travel freely.
"I draw inspiration from the courage and sacrifice of the ordinary Burmese people," she often said to me in interviews on the phone during the few years she was freed from house arrest, for the first time on July 10, 1995, after being detained for nearly six years.
The NLD has offered to put aside their differences in the interests of working together to provide relief to more than three million victims, many of whom are still waiting to receive fresh water and food, and after that help with the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.
Instead, Gen Than Shwe and his fellow generals remain steadfast in believing they can do it alone. The horrible irony of course is that their secretive approach to ruling the country in part resulted in the damage being greater than it might have been. Warnings were not broadcast to the Irrawaddy delta or Rangoon before the cyclone hit, though the regime knew for days that the storm was brewing.
On the eve of the cyclone, government officials were ordered not say anything publicly - instructions from Gen Than Shwe himself, according to government sources. One civil servant - U Tun Lwin, director-general of the Meteorology Department - when told directly by a government minister not to issue a public warning because it would cause people to panic, sent a warning SMS to as many of his friends in Rangoon as possible after midnight.
Air force fighters and private passenger planes from Bagan Air - believed to be a joint venture between Gen Than Shwe's family and the Burmese business tycoon Tay Za - and Air Mandalay were moved the evening before the storm from Rangoon airport to Mandalay for safety.
"This is symptomatic of the military leaders' total disregard for the safety of ordinary citizens and placing the protection of the
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