[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 5/6/08
- 'No US warships please, we're Burmese'
- MSF says many Burmese have yet to gain access to relief aid
- US ships abort Myanmar mercy mission
- One month after Cyclone Nargis
- Burma's junta turns away US aid ships
- Junta says constitution given mandate, opposition rejects contention
- Authorities demand money and goods from farmers
- Human rights group accuses Myanmar military of killing, torturing ethnic Karen civilians
- UK still worried over distribution of aid in burma
- ASEAN's shame
- Myanmar charter 'washes away' Suu Kyi victory
- Junta claims 'Emergency relief' phase over, aid agencies refute
- Burmese volunteers struggle to bring aid to cyclone survivors
- Junta ignores complaints of corruption
'No US warships please, we're Burmese' - AUNG ZAW
US Pentagon chief Robert Gates was wrong to accuse Burma's military rulers of being deaf and dumb, for not allowing US warships with aid into Burma's Irrawaddy delta region.
Burma's feudal warlords they are not - although these politically traumatised generals are paranoid, self-important and live under the illusion that once they relinquish power, the country will disintegrate.
Indeed, as some observers suggest, the regime's refusal to allow US warships to assist the cyclone relief effort has little to do with Burma's colonial past and apparent xenophobia.
Xenophobia and past colonial trauma may have played a role in refusing warships, but what the generals truly fear is that if they allow US warships and foreign forces to come to the aid of cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta, people will soon rise up and the regime would be overthrown. That fear prevented the Than Shwe regime from allowing the US to come in and help.
The generals may, in fact, believe the humanitarian nature of a US intervention, while distrusting their own people - believing that were foreign forces to land in Burma, it would spell the end of the regime.
Imagine a scenario where US marines and other servicemen land in the Irrawaddy delta, to be greeted by desperate Burmese urging them to overthrow the hated regime in Naypyidaw. The relief mission could quickly turn into one of regime-change and support for an anti-Than Shwe uprising.
But the regime has nothing to fear - the US warships, led by the USS Essex, will be leaving in a matter of days, according to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who travelled to Southeast Asia recently. Last week, the French warship Mistral with 1,000 tonnes of aid had left near Burmese waters, expressing "shock" as Burma had not permitted the Mistral to unload its aid cargo directly for distribution in the Irrawaddy delta - the worst-hit area.
The regime's leaders also insisted that only civilian aid workers will be allowed in the affected areas. Even this promise has not yet been fully honoured.
Calling the regime's behaviour "criminal neglect", Mr Gates said the US had made more than 15 overtures to the regime to allow the use of the Essex's helicopters to deliver aid, but all had been rejected. Thousands of villagers would die because of the regime's obduracy, Mr Gates said. It is safer for an impassive Gen Than Shwe to allow hundreds of thousands of villagers in the Irrawaddy delta region to die, rather than permitting a US relief mission to save them - a deadly decision, indeed.
At the time of the 1988 democracy uprising, Burma's military leaders lodged a complaint with the US embassy after sighting a US naval fleet of five warships, including the aircraft carrier Coral Sea, within Burmese territorial waters on the morning of Sept 12, six days before the army staged a bloody coup.
The sighting caused "major concern" among Burmese leaders, including Ne Win, who in the 1970s had secured US military assistance, including helicopters, in fighting against Communists and drug warlords. In those years, Burma sent its officers to the US General Staff College for training and study. Burma's official policy was, and remains: Americans are welcome, except in times of political crisis. Applying this policy, the military leaders even refused permission for a US C-130 plane to land in Rangoon in 1988 in order to evacuate US embassy staff during the anti-government uprising.
There were rumours that US warships were on their way to help democratic forces in the uprising in 1988, prompting thousands of young Burmese to leave the jungle and take up arms shortly after the Sept 18 coup. But the rumours were just wishful thinking - the US warships never materialised.
Twenty years later, the Burmese are still waiting for those warships, which this time carry humanitarian aid. And, in a bitter irony, the ships remain as illusory as ever.
When the US invaded Iraq in 2002, a joke shared among Burmese was: "After diamonds, it will be the turn of gold" - referring to the Burmese words for diamonds (Sein) and gold (Shwe), meaning Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Burma's junta leader Snr Gen Than Shwe.
Now, a new rumour is spreading throughout Burma. While looking skyward in vain for relief supply airlifts, people are saying that astrologers told Gen Than Shwe that as soon as white men with uniform landed in Burma, the regime would immediately collapse. For that reason, Gen Than Shwe, supported by his equally superstitious wife, refused assistance from the US fleet.
US soldiers landing from amphibious ships and helicopters with relief supplies could be mistaken for "liberation forces" and would no doubt ignite a popular uprising beyond the Irrawaddy delta. Foreign forces would meet appeals for help from survivors and the refugees who are now being forcibly ejected from temporary shelters. Armed clashes could occur between Burmese government and foreign forces, and the Irrawaddy delta could become a battlefield.
But all that is wishful thinking now. Gen Than Shwe has again escaped justice, saving his own life by sacrificing the lives of his countrymen and women by refusing aid from the warships.
Perhaps the US knew from the start that its ships would not be allowed into Burmese waters, conscious that its forces might end up dislodging the world's most hated regime instead of delivering relief of another kind. And that mission could prove to be open-ended, resolving a political mess no less complicated than the task of cleaning up after the cyclone.
* Aung Zaw is editor of the Irrawaddy magazine.
MSF says many Burmese have yet to gain access to relief aid - ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT
One month after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, the country still badly needs emergency relief aid as some of the survivors have yet to gain access to assistance, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
The agency directed its call to the international community, asking it to be more generous and stop thinking that aid would go to Burma's military government rather than to cyclone victims.
MSF was one of the first organisations to provide large-scale assistance directly to Nargis victims, but after a month the MSF teams are still finding villages where survivors live in dire conditions and have not yet received any significant aid, said Frank Smithuis, head of MSF Myanmar.
The agency, with 250 trucks, 30 boats, 250 local doctors, nurses, paramedics, logisticians as well as some 25 international staff, has been providing food, roof sheeting, water and sanitation material and medical consultations in the areas of Bogale, Laputta, Ngaputa and Pyapon in the Irrawaddy delta.
The agency has just set up a mental health support unit as trauma remains prevalent among the survivors.
Kaz De Jong, a mental health specialist, said MSF was training local counsellors who were instructed to target vulnerable groups such as orphans and old people who have been left alone.
Mr Smithuis said some MSF teams have seen high numbers of respiratory tract infections and cases of diarrhoea, which could be linked to a lack of access to clean water, absence of shelters, and exposure to heavy rains.
However, he noted that so far no disease outbreak or alarming rates of malnutrition have been reported by 36 MSF mobile teams operating in the delta.
What concerned the MSF was a lack of interest to pledge and press for more support for the cyclone victims, he said.
Mr Smithuis also downplayed criticism about the junta's blockade of international aid, saying limitations were still there but his organisation has tried many channels including through military officers. "It is true that our headquarters is also concerned that the aid relief will be in the wrong hands, but we have a team to provide direct aid and another team to check if the aid is really delivered. Certainly, donors need guarantees that the aid will not be used for the military or the government purpose but for the victims," he said.
He called for more generous pledging at a conference to be held in New York on June 12.
"Aid relief deliveries in other countries sometimes go to the wrong hands. It happens not only in the case of Cyclone Nargis but also in the countries hit by the tsunami and elsewhere. We just need to do things right," he said.
The United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance stated that despite the more flexible access for international aid workers over the past two weeks, there was still a need for better and specific access for those workers into the affected areas.
The World Food Programme was concerned with the rising cost of aid delivery while the Food and Agriculture Organisation was worried about late and inadequate farming as some villagers did not want to return to their land.
Sixty per cent of rice farms in Burma were hit by the cyclone and 16% of them were severely damaged.
US ships abort Myanmar mercy mission
By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press: Wed Jun 4
BANGKOK, Thailand - U.S. Navy ships are leaving Myanmar after failing to get the junta's permission to unload aid to "ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands" of cyclone survivors, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday.
Word of the aborted mercy mission comes even as the United Nations warned that a month after the cyclone swept through Myanmar, more than 1 million people still don't have adequate food, water or shelter and junta policies are hindering relief efforts.
Adm. Timothy Keating ordered the vessels to leave the Myanmar area Thursday, after the U.S. made at least 15 attempts to convince Myanmar's leaders to allow ships, helicopters and landing craft to offload their aid.
Myanmar's state media has said that it feared a U.S. invasion aimed at seizing the country's oil deposits. But the junta has also forbidden use of military helicopters from friendly neighboring nations, which are vital in rushing supplies to isolated survivors.
Keating, in a news release from Honolulu, said the USS Essex and accompanying ships would return if Myanmar's leaders change their minds.
"I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta," Keating said. Myanmar is also known as Burma.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday that Myanmar's obstruction of international efforts to help cyclone victims cost "tens of thousands of lives."
Humanitarian groups say they continue to face hurdles from Myanmar's military government in sending disaster experts and vital equipment into the country. As a result, only a trickle of aid is reaching the storm's estimated 2.4 million survivors, leaving many without even basic relief.
Aid groups are unable to provide 1.1 million survivors with sufficient food and clean water, while trying to prevent a second wave of deaths from malnutrition and disease, the U.N. said in its latest assessment report that circulated Tuesday.
Of the 1.3 million people who are getting help, most have been "reached with inconsistent levels of assistance," the U.N. said.
"There remains a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance for the affected populations," the report said.
It also said the world body lacked "a clear understanding of the support being provided by the Government of Myanmar to its people."
In one effort to reach survivors, the U.S.-based Mercy Corps sent the first of a fleet of barges into the delta where many areas are only accessible by water.
The barge, bound for the hard-hit town of Laputta, carried emergency supplies and items to jump-start a "cash-for-work" recovery program, which was used after the tsunami in Indonesia, a release from the group said.
It's shocking that cyclone victims still need basic relief after four weeks, said Sarah Ireland, regional director of the British aid organization Oxfam, which is trying to get permission to work in Myanmar.
"If we were in a normal response by week four, those affected should be working toward recovery," she said Monday. "They would be in a position perhaps to think about what they need to restart their lives. But we know people on the ground don't have food to eat."
Tidal surges as high as 12 feet reached some 25 miles inland as the cyclone churned through the country for two days beginning May 2. The storm laid entire villages in the Irrawaddy delta to waste and left 78,000 people dead and another 56,000 missing, according to the government's count.
But the relief has yet to match the scale of the disaster.
A big obstacle in providing relief has been reaching the delta. The U.N.'s World Food Program has chartered helicopters to deliver aid to the hard-hit area, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the agency in Bangkok, after the government refused to allow military helicopters in.
Ordinarily, in large scale disasters - such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Pakistan's 2005 earthquake - military helicopters are used to meet the massive immediate emergency requirements, he said.
But the WFP is facing a 64 percent shortfall of its $70 million appeal to fund the operation, and Risley warned that expenses are skyrocketing, due in large part to the reliance on the chartered choppers and other logistical hurdles. He indicated that with two months left in the appeal, the agency would likely meet the target.
Myanmar was only able to supply seven helicopters to the WFP, and the organization chartered 10 privately owned choppers and ship them to Bangkok. The Canadian and Australian governments ferried some of the helicopters, but the WFP spent "roughly $1 million" to bring three from Uganda, Risley said.
Only one helicopter has arrived in Myanmar so far, heading to the Irrawaddy delta on Monday. The other nine are in Thailand and "ready to fly," Risley said.
Thus far, most relief supplies have been transported along dirt roads and by boat. Vessels able to navigate the debris-filled canals are scarce and efforts to import trucks and other vehicles have been hampered by governmental red tape.
"For aid agencies it is very important that those affected receive a full complement of appropriate aid," said James East, a spokesman for World Vision, a private aid agency operating in Myanmar even before the disaster. "To say that a certain percentage of people have received aid means little because some survivors may have received a tarpaulin but no food and vice versa."
Stories have emerged of survivors going days without food or being forced to drink from dirty canals. The Associated Press has interviewed survivors in recent days who still have not received any government or international assistance and turned to the country's revered monks for help.
Human rights groups have also accused Myanmar's military rulers of kicking homeless cyclone survivors out of camps, schools and monasteries and sending them back to their devastated villages to help restore the country's agriculture sector.
"It's unconscionable for Burma's generals to force cyclone victims back to their devastated homes," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Claiming a 'return to normalcy' is no basis for returning people to greater misery and possible death."
Myanmar's xenophobic military regime left survivors to largely fend for themselves. It barred foreigners from the delta until last week.
The lack of foreign experts in the field has meant a chaotic and uneven aid effort, aid organizations said. Without them, it is nearly impossible to asses needs of survivors or set up systems that would now be in place in a normal disaster response, the groups said.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies waited until Monday for government approval to send six foreign experts into the field to help run its water treatment facilities. Until now, it has been able to provide only 5,000 people each day with clean water.
"It was much easier to get medical supplies, clean water, engineers and psychological consultants into the field in (Indonesia's Aceh province) within the first month," IFRC spokesman France Hurtubise said. "Human resources and expertise remain a challenge in Myanmar." Aceh was one of the hardest hit by the 2004 tsunami.
* Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Ambika Ahuja contributed to this report.
One month after Cyclone Nargis Aung Thet Wine
Irrawaddy: Wed 4 Jun 2008
Just as relief efforts were beginning to take hold in Laputta - although serious problems still exist - the Burmese authorities have forced tens of thousands of refugees to return to their home villages.
Based on numbers provided by local officials, as many as 30,000 refugees were sent back to the area of their homes during the past week. Of the estimated 40,000 refugees that lived in Laputta previously, only about 10,000 remain.
They are living in better established camps on the outskirts of the city, where they receive shelter, sufficient drinking water, food and other relief supplies on a daily basis.
Reports also indicate that drinking water, food and other relief material are beginning to reach some refugees who have been sent back to their villages.
Many refugees are now returning to Laputta to pick up food and other relief aid from international agencies located there. Many refugees also are receiving diesel fuel to power vehicles or boats. However, many refugees lack transportation to return for relief supplies.
Serious logistical problems remain in terms of distribution drinking water, food and survival material to refugees in more rural areas. Local doctors report many people are suffering from diseases such as diarrhea and malaria, and many others have psychological problems.
Medical doctors in Laputta said sending the refugees back to their home villages so quickly was a misguided policy, denying them badly needed relief supplies and medical services.
Local Laputta authorities ordered about 40,000 refugees living in 49 temporary shelters, including camps at Thakya Mara Zein Pagoda, No 1 and No 2 State High Schools, and other temporary shelter sites, to move to shelter camps on the outskirts of town, called Three-mile camp on Laputta-Myaung Mya Road, locally known as the golf course; Five-mile camp and the Yantana Dipa Sport Ground camp.
During the past week, Laputta, authorities transported tens of thousands of refugees back to their home villages, most of which are destroyed or badly damaged. The refugees were transported on a daily basis by private companies that have been awarded reconstruction contracts. The companies include Ayer Shwe Wah, Max Myanmar, War War Win and Zay Kabar companies.
"Until May 18, there were about 40,000 refugees in total in camps in Laputta. Starting on May 20, they were sent to camps situated out of town and since then most refugees have been returned to their home areas," said an officer of the Laputta Township PDC, who asked that his name not be disclosed.
"There are now about 650 families from 22 cyclone-affected villages living at the Yadanar Dipa Sport Ground," he said. "The camp population is 2,609. The camp population at Three-mile and Five-mile camps now totals about 10,000. The figures are not constant, and the refugees are being sent back daily."
Refugees in the camps on the outskirts of Laputta are provided with tents and other shelter material donated by the governments of Britain, Japan and international aid agencies. They have access to safe drinking water from distilling machines. Food is distributed by the UN World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, and nongovernmental organizations, including the Adventist Development and Relief Agency Myanmar [Burma] (Adra-Myanmar) and other organizations.
"For rice, we receive a sack of rice for four families for three days, which is from the WFP," said a refugee at Three-mile Camp. "The rice is good to eat. The government also provides some rice. One person receives two tins (measured in a condensed milk tin) of rice for three days. We also receive cooking oil, salt and beans from other organizations. For drinking water and water for other use, we can collect it from the distilling machines set up at the front of the camp."
Camp refugees now have regular access to health care at medical clinics operated by Holland-MSF, Marlin, Malteser International, UN agencies, the Myanmar Medical Association and the Burmese Ministry of Health. Diarrhea and other diseases are minimal in the camps, sources said.
However, many refugees already sent back to their villages are living under very different and difficult conditions.
"They don't get proper assistance for food, drinking water and shelter and no health care is available to them," said a doctor with an international health agency in Laputta.
"Many of them are suffering from diseases such as diarrheas, malaria, typhoid, hepatitis, plus psychological distress and depression."
"When I went out to villages, I found some cases of diarrhea and typhoid. I see six or seven patients out of maybe 60 villagers. Some suffer from hepatitis, jaundice, pneumonia and malaria. Most of these diseases are caused by lack of safe water."
Many refugees are suffering from depression, he said, and mental health specialists have yet to arrive in Laputta.
He criticized the forced return of refugees to their villages.
"It is certain these refugees will contract some diseases by sending them back without proper preparation," he said. "It's also impossible for health services to access all these villages. What we can try to do is just contain diseases to prevent an epidemic."
When the refugees were returned to their villages, the authorities provided them with a sack of rice, a tin of cooking oil and 20,000 kyats ($16).
A family of refugees at the jetty in Laputta who were on their way back to Gway Chaung village in the Yway village tract said they were required to sign a consent form saying they were voluntarily repatriated.
"They asked us repeatedly to go back," said the man. "They told us repeatedly to work our way out of a beggar-like life by relying on donations and food from others."
A refugee living at the Yadanar Dipa Sport Ground said they were told that if they returned home they would not be accepted back in a shelter camp. He said he was returning to his village, Thin Gan Gyi.
A 60-year-old man at Three-mile Camp said he wanted to return home, but he worried about how he would eat. He had no other option if the authorities forcibly evicted him, he said.
A UNICEF officer in Laputta said repatriated refugees face renewed problems of safe drinking water and adequate food and other supplies. They are told to return to contact UN organizations and other relief agencies for assistance, he said.
"We are receiving representatives from villages," he said. "They tell us their needs and problems such as lack of drinking water, lack of rice, and ask us to provide pumps to take the salt water from the drinking ponds. They need to make the ponds ready to receive fresh rain water.
A WFP supervisor said, "We are now getting more than 20 representatives a day from various villages. They get some drinking water, rice sacks and diesel for boats, as much as they can carry when they go back. Some villagers are coming to us almost daily."
Staff with the UN and international organizations worry that only a limited number of returned refugees are making contact with relief agencies, since many don't have adequate transportation. Likewise, relief organizations don't have adequate transportation to reach the villagers.
Compounding the problem is the monsoon season, which begins this month.
Sources note that villagers reach out to UN agencies and international organizations, and they hardly share their needs or complaints with local Burmese authorities.
For example, a representative from the Pyin Salu Sub-township was in Laputta specifically to ask for a water-pump from the Adra-Myanmar [Burma] agency to reconstruct a water reservoir pond for drinking water. His village received just enough drinking water and people relied on seawater for cooking and other purposes.
A village representative from Hlwa Sar village who was receiving relief supplies from the WFP in Laputta on May 31, told The Irrawaddy, "Almost all of the storm survivors believe in the UN and other international agencies. They don't go to our authorities. The main reason is we don't trust them."
Burma's junta turns away US aid ships Thomas Bell
Telegraph (UK): Wed 4 Jun 2008
Four American navy ships, laden with relief supplies, are steaming away from the Burmese coast because the military junta will not allow them to help starving cyclone victims.
US Navy ships shown earlier heading towards Myanmar On board the boats were 22 urgently needed heavy-lift helicopters, amphibious vehicles and water purification equipment.
The Burmese regime claimed that, far from wanting to help the 2.5 million survivors of last month's cyclone, the US was in fact intent on stealing the country's oil resources.
"I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta," said Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of US Pacific Command.
"It is time for the USS Essex group to move on to its next mission."
Among the many problems still blighting the relief effort is a shortage of helicopters. The Burmese military has provided only seven while one United Nations helicopter has been imported and 9 more wait idle in neighbouring Thailand.
The UN says that only 49 per cent of survivors have received any relief at all, and even the lucky ones have received nowhere near enough. Some devastated communities have not yet been reached by outsiders a month after the disaster.
Access for foreign staff remains a huge problem, despite assurances from the junta. The first six foreign Red Cross workers were expected to reach the delta today.
"For the tsunami we had 300 expats in within the first month compare 300 to six," France Hurtubise, a spokeswoman.
The United Nations also warned today that farmers in much of the Irrawaddy delta are likely to miss the rice planting season, which has now begun. The region is traditionally the most productive in Burma.
"Many areas are still empty and farmers haven't yet come back because of the lack of shelter and lack of food," said Food and Agriculture Organisation's Hiroyuki Konuma.
"We have to complete sowing by the end of July latest otherwise it will create tremendous damage to productivity and affect income and eventually will affect national security of Myanmar itself."
Junta says constitution given mandate, opposition rejects contention Mungpi
Mizzima News: Wed 4 Jun 2008
The New York based Human Rights Watch said it does not endorse the Burmese junta's referendum results as it falls short of any form of existing standards and urged the international community including the United Nations to reject it.
"Human Rights Watch does not endorse the results of the referendum," David Scott Mathieson, HRW's Burma consultant told Mizzima.
"We don't think other members of the international community should [endorse]. Endorsing the [junta's] process is endorsing military rule [in Burma]."
But Burma's military rulers said the people's overwhelming support of the draft constitution in the referendum in May shows that the people have given the mandate to the constitution.
And that the result of the referendum wipes out the mandate claimed by the opposition party - the National League for Democracy that won a landslide victory in Burma's last free and fair general election in 1990.
The junta announced that the draft constitution was supported by 92.48 percent of the total eligible voters in Burma in a referendum, which critics said was not 'Free and Fair.'
The junta's statement, which came in the form of an article in its mouthpiece newspapers New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday and The Mirror on Wednesday questioned the 1990 election results saying it is now irrelevant and lacks the support of the people.
"Then, what will those who claim themselves to have the mandate of the people according to the 1990 election results have to do? Will they have to throw the mandate down the drain," the article questioned.
But critics said the constitution, drafted solely by the junta's handpicked delegates, does not reflect the people's desire and the process of the referendum lacks legitimacy and is fundamentally flawed.
Mathieson said the true desire of the people could only be reflected if the referendum process did not include any form of vote-rigging, intimidation, advance voting or any form of pressures on the people.
On Tuesday, US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Burma's referendum fails to meet the standards of the UN Security Council on account of openness and fairness.
In his interaction with the press on his assuming the office of the Council's Presidency for June, Khalilzad told reporters in New York that Burma's "referendum did not meet the standards that the Security Council had expressed."
"We have not seen satisfactory progress on that and the easing of the conditions on Aung San Suu Kyi has not taken place besides the issue of the referendum," Khalilzad said.
Meanwhile, Burma's 88 generation student activists, the All Burma Federation Students' Union and the All Burma Monks Alliance in a joint statement on Wednesday rejected the ruling junta's referendum results and pledged that they will continue activities until a new constitution that reflects the peoples' desire could be formulated.
"We will continue with the Pattanikuzana (boycott campaign) until a new government representing the people can be formed," Sayadaw U Pyinya Wuntha, spokesperson of the ABMA told Mizzima.
But the junta said the people by overwhelmingly approving the constitution shows that they welcome the new government to be formed after the 2010 election.
Mathieson said while practically convening the parliament on the basis of the 1990 election might not be relevant due to the time gap and differences in situation, the legitimacy of the election winners cannot be denied.
"Its practical to say that convening the parliament is no longer viable, however, everyone should remember it still has legitimacy and the surviving Members of Parliament should be given the respect they deserve," Mathieson said.
Nyan Win, spokesperson of the NLD said there are no legal grounds to say that the 1990 election results have lost its relevance. And the junta's constitution cannot be considered legally approved as the junta has pre-determined the result of the referendum.
"Legally, the people have given their mandate to the 1990 election results," said Nyan Win, adding that though the junta failed to honour, it cannot be overridden by a 'rigged referendum'.
However, the NLD believes that the best way forward for Burma's political future is to negotiate and to hold a dialogue to kick-start an all inclusive process of national reconciliation, Nyan Win added.
Authorities demand money and goods from farmers Naw Say Phaw
Democratic Voice of Burma: Wed 4 Jun 2008
Local authorities in Zee Gone township, Bago division, have demanded that farmers give them money, rice and buffalo, which they say will go to help cyclone victims.
Farmers in Bago division's Zee Gone township said they were forced by local authorities to pay 1000 kyat from their agricultural loans into the cyclone fund.
"We also have to give 3 viss of rice grain for each acre of farm and each village group in the area was asked to donate three buffalo which would be worth around 350,000 kyat at today's prices," one farmer said.
"They are robbing us and using the cyclone as an excuse."
Locals in Nyaung Lay Pin township said they have also been forced to give rice grain or 48,000 kyat to local authorities for the cyclone victims.
"Township authorities told us we have a responsibility to contribute to the rehabilitation of devastated areas in Irrawaddy and that we have to donate whether we like it or not," a Nyaung Lay Pin resident said.
"Business owners were also asked to pay between 30,000 and 50,000 kyat."
Farmers from Nwartehgone village in Zee Gone have previously said they were forced to give almost one fifth of their agricultural loans to local authorities, including 200 kyat per acre for cyclone victims.
The farmers claimed the cyclone donation was taken by the village Peace and Development Council chairman, who then demanded another 200 kyat from them to replace it.
Human rights group accuses Myanmar military of killing, torturing ethnic Karen civilians
Associated Press: Wed 4 Jun 2008
While Myanmar's ruling military fails its people suffering after a devastating cyclone, it is committing crimes against humanity in a brutal campaign against ethnic Karen civilians, an international human rights group said Wednesday.
The London-based Amnesty International said the Karen in eastern Myanmar are being killed, tortured and forced to work for the military while their villages are burned and their crops destroyed.
An estimated 147,800 Karen people remain refugees in their own land because the junta forcibly relocated them from their villages to camps, in efforts to stamp out a decades-old rebellion by a segment of the Karen community seeking autonomy from the central government.
"These violations constitute crimes against humanity involving a widespread and systematic violation of international human rights and humanitarian law," an Amnesty report said.
The government has repeatedly denied similar allegations in the past, saying it was only engaged in security operations in Karen State aimed at wiping out "terrorists."
Amnesty said the continuing campaign is the fourth turbulent episode in the country's recent history.
The others include a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests last September, a recent referendum on a constitution designed to perpetuate military rule and "a humanitarian and human rights disaster in the wake of Cyclone Nargis," it said.
The international community has sharply criticized the junta for barring foreign aid workers from areas worst hit by the cyclone and itself providing little help to survivors.
Amnesty said that unlike in earlier campaigns against the Karen National Union, the key rebel group, the current one that began 2 1/2 years ago has "civilians as the primary targets."
The group said it documented cases of more than 25 Karen civilians killed by the military in Karen State in the two years since July 2005.
One farmer working in his field in Dweh Loh township was beaten and shot by soldiers after he told them the location of a rebel camp. Another farmer told of a civilian detainee being stabbed in the chest and then dropped down a mountain slope "just like an animal."
"If they found us they would kill us, because for the Burmese army the Karen and the Karen National Union are one," a 35-year-old villager in Thandaung township told Amnesty. Myanmar is also known as Burma.
Arbitrary arrests, sudden disappearances, forced labor and portering for the military continue to be widespread, Amnesty said. A woman from Tantabin township said she and other porters were forced to act as human minesweepers, and that some stepped on mines.
To purportedly separate civilians from the armed rebels, villagers have been forcibly relocated from their homes into camps where men, women and children are also forced to work for the military.
Often the villages they left behind were torched.
UK still worried over distribution of aid in burma Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation (Thailand): Wed 4 Jun 2008
The United Kingdom is continuing to express its concerns over the distribution of aid to the devastated areas of Burma. Foreign Secretary David Miliband yesterday urged his Thai counterpart Noppadon Pattama, who is visiting London on a European tour, to use whatever pressure he can to get the assistance to the hundreds of thousands of affected people.
The UK contributed £25 million (Bt1.6 billion) to Burma after Cyclone Nargis hit the country early last month and left more than 134,000 people dead and missing. After long delays, international humanitarian aid has begun to flow into the junta-ruled country but the United Nations said only 60 per cent of 2.4 million affected people have received assistance. Noppadon said yesterday he told Miliband the Asean-led coordinating mechanism and the tri-partite core group jointly set up by the UN, Asean and the junta would be able to get things done.
Burmese authorities said yesterday assistance from abroad could reach devastated areas without delay.
"Myanmar [Burma] was able to successfully carry out the relief and rehabilitation operation in a short time although it was hit hard by the severe storm," said the junta's mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar.
Noppadon urged the UK to continue humanitarian assistance to Burma beyond the emergency relief, in terms of education and human development.
Despite being a bilateral visit, the Burma issue dominated discussions between Noppadon and Miliband on the natural disaster and political development in the military-ruled country.
"I beg the UK for understanding that Thailand cannot take a tough position on democracy in Burma but needs to engage Burma since we are immediate neighbours who share more than 2,000 kilometres of border," he said via telephone conference from London yesterday.
The political situation in Burma has been in deadlock since the junta refused to allow the opposition to participate in politics. The authorities have just extended the house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi despite proceeding with the so-called "seven-step" roadmap toward national reconciliation and democracy.
Philippine Daily Inquirer: Wed 4 Jun 2008
A month after the storm that wrought havoc on Burma (Myanmar) and killed over 130,000 people, over 2 million Burmese citizens remain at risk. The international community had responded readily, offering both rescue teams and relief aid. But in the first three weeks of the deepening humanitarian crisis, the military dictatorship that has controlled Burma since 1962 spurned all forms of foreign assistance. It changed its mind only after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Burma and personally negotiated the terms of access with junta leader Than Shwe.
It has since become clear, however, that regardless of the junta's promises, foreign relief remains unwelcome in Burma. This must be due to the junta's fear of foreign intervention and its brutal disregard for the welfare of its own people. (It even took advantage of the tropical cyclone's chaotic aftermath to extend opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest.)
Last week, a French naval vessel sailed from Burma after being refused entry into the country one last time; it had to leave its cargo of relief aid with the United Nations in Thailand. And today, four US Navy ships will leave the area too, save for several heavy-lift helicopters it will temporarily base in Thailand, after the American government's offer of help was rejected for perhaps the 15th time.
"Over the past three weeks we have made at least 15 attempts to convince the Burmese government to allow our ships, helicopters and landing craft to provide additional disaster relief for the people of Burma," the commander in chief of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, said. "I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta."
Reuters reported from Bangkok that Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had told US Defense Secretary Robert Gates over the weekend the Burmese junta's reason for rejecting foreign military help: because (according to Reuters) "it feared it could be seen as an invasion."
The army of American relief-bringers that descended in parts of Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami could also have been seen as an invasion; in fact it did not escape criticism from some Indonesians, especially in the context of the growth of fundamentalist Islamic movements in the world's largest Muslim nation. But Indonesia's government welcomed the assistance, helping thousands of lives in the process.
To be sure, Indonesia is an emerging democracy, and Burma remains as one of the world's last totalitarian states. But both countries belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The members of ASEAN could have prevailed on Burma to open its doors temporarily to foreign aid (and to the military organizations needed to transport it).
We note with great regret that it was diplomatic pressure from the United Nations that prompted the junta to open the gates (ever so slightly) to foreign aid - regret, because it should have been ASEAN applying the pressure. Indeed, it should be ASEAN's role to keep the pressure on, to ease the entry of more relief goods into the country.
But in the face of one of the worst crises in ASEAN history, the association is being sucked into the vortex of irrelevance.
We realize that diplomacy has only a limited effect on a dictatorship like Burma's. We acknowledge that the Burmese junta's decision in 2005 to vacate ASEAN's rotating presidency in favor of the Philippines was the result of some furious back-channeling. We recognize that, for a junta like Burma's, an international honor like that of ASEAN's rotating presidency pales into insignificance beside the imperative of regime survival. But surely ASEAN can make the case to Burma to allow non-regime-threatening humanitarian aid.
If Burma's membership in ASEAN does not allow other members to help in times of great calamity, why join in the first place?
Myanmar charter 'washes away' Suu Kyi victory: state media
Agence France Press: Tue 3 Jun 2008
A referendum approving a new military-backed constitution for Myanmar has "washed away" the victory claimed by Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party in 1990 elections, state media said Tuesday.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide 18 years ago, but the military never recognised the result and has kept the Nobel peace prize winner under house arrest for most of the years since then.
The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar said Tuesday that the NLD's election mandate was "outdated" after the constitution was approved last month in a controversial referendum - held while the impoverished nation was still reeling from the devastating effects of Cyclone Nargis.
"What will those who claimed themselves to have the mandate of the people according to the 1990 election results have to do? Will they have to throw the mandate down the drain?" the English-language paper asked.
"Now, their hope was washed away along the current of the vote of the people," it added.
The paper, which did not refer to Aung San Suu Kyi or the NLD by name, said the party would now have to seek a new election mandate in polls promised for 2010.
"If they want to have the mandate of the people in the new nation with the new system, they should stand for election in accordance with the rules and regulations" and display a sense of discipline and democracy, it added.
The NLD has rejected the result of the referendum, which Myanmar claims was approved by more than 92 percent of voters on a 98 percent turnout.
The party condemned the junta for holding the vote instead of focusing on the humanitarian crisis, and accused officials of rigging the outcome.
The cyclone left 133,000 dead or missing when it pounded the country on May 2-3, flooding entire villages and devastating the Irrawaddy Delta.
But the newspaper dismissed "the complaints of those who cling on to the outdated mandate," and warned that they should not "build castles in the air while ignoring the prevailing situations."
Myanmar says the constitution will clear the way for democratic elections, but the NLD insists it will merely enshrine military rule.
The new charter bans Aung San Suu Kyi from holding elected office, while reserving a quarter of the seats in parliament for serving soldiers.
The junta has come under fierce international pressure for its response to the cyclone, notably for sweeping restrictions on foreign aid designed to help 2.4 million people the United Nations says are in dire need of shelter, food and medicine.
UN officials estimate 60 percent of them still have not received any help.
Despite the devastation, Myanmar has kept a tight grip on the nation's politics.
Last month, the regime ordered Aung San Suu Kyi to spend another year confined to her home, while arresting 16 of her supporters who had taken to the streets to call for her release.
Myanmar analyst Win Min, based at Thailand's Chiang Mai University, said that the junta was trying to weaken the NLD by attacking its popular endorsement in the last national elections.
"The whole intention of the military was to delegitimise the 1990 elections by holding the referendum," Win Min said. "People are very angry. It is obvious that they rigged the vote."
With most people in Yangon also struggling to cope with the aftermath of the storm, democracy activists would not be able to organise protests against the referendum's outcome, Win Min said.
"Most of their attention is on the cyclone and the survivors. So they are not going to organise anything, even if they do not like" the result, he said.
Junta claims 'Emergency relief' phase over, aid agencies refute Mungpi
Mizzima News: Tue 3 Jun 2008
Burma's ruling junta has announced that the 'emergency relief period is over' and it is now focusing on reconstruction work, even as the international community and domestic aid workers are escalating their efforts to supply aid to cyclone victims.
Burmese junta's second man Vice Senior General Maung Aye during a meeting with officials in Pathein, capital of Irrawaddy division on Monday said following the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis, the government was able to successfully carry out relief work.
"Myanmar was able to successfully carry out the relief and rehabilitation operation in a short time although it was hit hard by the severe cyclone," Maung Aye said.
But this statement largely contradicted the ongoing state of affairs as reported by several aid workers including domestic and international aid agencies.
Humanitarian Assistant Committee of the National League for Democracy, Burma's main opposition party, said while aid has been reaching several towns, which are easier to access, several villages in the remote areas have not seen any form of aid.
"Our humanitarian committee assess that at the most only about 40 percent of the victims might have received initial aid, but the rest has not seen any form of aid," Nyan Win, the NLD's spokesperson said.
Nyan Win said it is important that the government opens up to aid supplies and to workers so that more aid reaches to remote areas as several people are going hungry day by day.
"No, no 'emergency relief' continues," said Paul Risley, spokesperson of the World Food Programme in Bangkok, adding that the terms used may vary from 'relief or recovery' but the facts remain the same.
While it is possible to reach to refugees in towns such as Laputta and Bogale in Irrawaddy delta, it still remains a difficult challenge to reach remote areas, Risley said.
"Aid supply continues to be problem. Getting access to the areas in the delta requires permission from the government. So it is very difficult," he added.
WFP said it is negotiating with the Burmese government to allow them to deploy helicopters, with one ready in Rangoon and nine more in Bangkok, for supplying aid to remote areas.
Burmese volunteers struggle to bring aid to cyclone survivors Violet Cho
Irrawaddy: Tue 3 Jun 2008
Burmese medical relief workers in the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta region report that restrictions applied by local government authorities and soaring prices for supplies are preventing them from helping all those who urgently need aid.
"The medicines we brought along with us were not enough for the people who needed treatment," said one volunteer doctor.
A nurse who has just returned from a remote area of Bogalay Township said stomach problems were a common complaint among survivors forced to exist on a diet of coconut shoots.
"People suffer from diarrhea and stomach pain after eating coconut shoots, but they have no other food," she said.
The nurse bought medical supplies with money donated by her family and friends, but soaring prices prevented her from helping all those who needed treatment.
One Rangoon news journal reported that Burmese volunteers were taking medical aid by boat deep into the delta, to such hard-hit places as Laputta, Pyapon and Bogalay.
Foreign aid workers in the delta include medical personnel from India, Laos, Bangladesh, Singapore, the Philippines, France, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand.
The Chinese medics have treated 4,000 people in Dedaye, in the Irrawaddy delta, and Kungyangon and Kawmu in Rangoon Division. Thai medics have treated nearly 4,000 people in Myaungmya and Laputta in the delta region.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has, meanwhile, established a task force, led by Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, to coordinate and channel international aid to Burma. Asean is planning to send hundreds of additional relief personnel to cyclone-ravaged areas.
Relief networks have also been set up by several Burmese organizations in exile, including the National Health and Education Committee, the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, the Burma Medical Association and Dr Cynthia Maung's Mae Tao Clinic.
Mahn Mahn, a leading member of the Burma Medical Association, said that three days after the cyclone struck the region his organization had established 34 networks to provide food, drinking water, clothes, shelters, medicines and building materials.
But Mahn Mahn said that because the networks had been set up by Burmese in exile he was concerned about the security of volunteers working within Burma to distribute the aid.
Despite the difficulties, Mahn Mahn said, the networks had been able to help more than 40,000 survivors who had received no assistance from the state.
Junta ignores complaints of corruption Min Khet Maung
Irrawaddy: Tue 3 Jun 2008
Victims of Cyclone Nargis are growing impatient not only with the slow pace of aid into the devastated Irrawaddy delta, but also with the authorities' failure to curb corruption in the handling of relief supplies.
"I wonder why the Prime Minister is so reluctant to respond to my letter," said a woman in her fifties, sitting in her home - a flimsy bamboo construction that has not had a proper roof since the cyclone.
The woman, who identified herself as Daw Khin, was referring to a letter she and three other women had sent to Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein three weeks ago, describing how the chief of their village in Hlaing Tharyar Township, on the outskirts of Rangoon, had misappropriated aid intended for needy storm victims.
After weeks of waiting for the authorities to take some action, she and her neighbors said that the village headman was still selling sacks of rice to local traders instead of distributing it to cyclone victims, and still keeping plastic sheeting for himself.
The letter is just one of dozens that have been submitted to government officials by residents of cyclone-affected areas in Rangoon and Irrawaddy Divisions. Most contain complaints of local officials pilfering scant relief resources, and none have received any response or resulted in any action by the government.
In Pyapon, one of the worst-hit areas, trishaw drivers submitted a letter to township authorities in the second week of May, describing how the chairmen of township quarters were selling sacks of rice to local traders.
"We saw them selling the rice with our own eyes. They usually sell the goods at night," said the trishaw driver who wrote the letter and urged others to sign it.
Despite the boldness of their action, the trishaw drivers remained wary of discussing it openly. As they spoke about their letter, they looked around to make sure there were no members of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Association within earshot.
A group of people in Kungyangone, about 50 km from Rangoon, also said they have seen no actions taken against local administrators since they sent a letter to the prime minister accusing quarter authorities of selling packages of food and other supplies from Thailand.
In a remote village in Bogalay Township, an elderly man who wrote a letter of complaint said that the village chairman had taken relief supplies for himself and replaced them with lower quality products.
"The chairman and his relatives are eating noodles from Thailand, but we're getting Burmese-made noodles," said the man, whose letter was signed by others in his village.
Last month, the military government announced that it would welcome any letter of complaint and take prompt action against corrupt officials. However, so far, no charges have been laid against any official.
"The junta seems unwilling to handle this problem now. If they do, it would mean acknowledging that there is widespread corruption," said one observer. "It would make them lose credibility with the international community."
When asked what they expected to achieve with the letters, most said they were not sure yet how the authorities would respond. But they said they knew they would be in trouble if local authorities found out about the charges they've made against them.
"But at least we can show that we are brave enough to reveal what's really happening down here to the prime minister," said Daw Khin.