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Myanmar junta hands out aid boxes with generals' names

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080510/ap_on_re_as/myanmar_cyclone Myanmar junta hands out aid boxes with generals names 32 minutes ago YANGON, Myanmar -
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10 6:17 AM
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080510/ap_on_re_as/myanmar_cyclone

      Myanmar junta hands out aid boxes with generals'
      names

      32 minutes ago

      YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military regime
      distributed international aid Saturday but plastered
      the boxes with the names of top generals in an
      apparent effort to turn the relief effort for last
      week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise.

      The United Nations sent in three more planes and
      several trucks loaded with aid, though the junta took
      over its first two shipments. The government agreed to
      let a U.S. cargo plane bring in supplies Monday, but
      foreign disaster experts were still being barred
      entry.

      State-run television continuously ran images of top
      generals — including the junta leader, Senior Gen.
      Than Shwe — handing out boxes of aid to survivors at
      elaborate ceremonies.

      One box bore the name of Lt. Gen. Myint Swe, a rising
      star in the government hierarchy, in bold letters that
      overshadowed a smaller label reading: "Aid from the
      Kingdom of Thailand."

      "We have already seen regional commanders putting
      their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia,
      saying this was a gift from them and then distributing
      it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of
      Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights
      and democracy in the country.

      "It is not going to areas where it is most in need,"
      he said in London.

      State media say 23,335 people died and 37,019 are
      missing from Cyclone Nargis, which submerged entire
      villages in the Irrawaddy delta. International aid
      organizations say the death toll could climb to more
      than 100,000 as conditions worsen.

      The U.N. estimates that 1.5 million to 2 million
      people have been severely affected and has voiced
      concern about the disposal of bodies.

      With phone lines down, roads blocked and electricity
      networks destroyed, it is nearly impossible to reach
      isolated areas in the delta, complicated by the lack
      of experienced international aid workers and
      equipment.

      But the junta has refused to grant access to foreign
      experts, saying it will only accept donations from
      foreign charities and governments, and then will
      deliver the aid on its own.

      Farmaner said the world needs to move to deliver aid
      directly to victims in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

      "People we are speaking to in Burma say aid must be
      delivered anyway even if the regime doesn't give
      permission," he said. "We have had a week to convince
      the regime to behave reasonably, and they are still
      blocking aid. So the international community needs to
      wake up and take bolder steps."

      However, aid providers are unlikely to pursue
      unilateral deliveries like airdrops because of the
      diplomatic firestorm that it could set off.

      So far, relief workers have reached 220,000 cyclone
      victims, only a small fraction of the number of people
      affected, the Red Cross said Friday. Three Red Cross
      aid flights loaded with shelter kits and other
      emergency supplies landed Friday without incident.

      But the government seized two planeloads of
      high-energy biscuits — enough to feed 95,000 people —
      sent by the U.N. World Food Program. Despite the
      seizure, the WFP was sending three more planes
      Saturday from Dubai, Cambodia and Italy, even though
      those could be confiscated, too.

      "We are working around the clock with the authorities
      to ensure the kind of access that we need to ensure it
      goes to people that need it most," WFP spokesman
      Marcus Prior said in Bangkok, Thailand.

      Richard Horsey, a spokesman for U.N. humanitarian
      operations, said an international presence is needed
      in Myanmar to look at the logistics of getting boats,
      helicopters and trucks into the delta area.

      "That's a critical bottleneck that must be overcome at
      this point," he said in Bangkok.

      He warned there was a great risk of diarrhea and
      cholera spreading because of the lack of clean
      drinking water and sanitation.

      "We are running out of time here. This could be a huge
      problem and this could lead to a second phase which
      could be as deadly as the cyclone," he said.

      Heavy rain forecast in the next week was certain to
      exacerbate the misery. Diplomats and aid groups warned
      the number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000
      because of illnesses and said thousands of children
      may have been orphaned.

      Survivors from one of the worst-affected areas, near
      the town of Bogalay, were among those fighting hunger,
      illness and wrenching loneliness.

      "All my 28 family members have died," said Thein
      Myint, a 68-year-old fisherman who wept while
      describing how the cyclone swept away the rest of his
      family. "I am the only survivor."

      Officials have said only one out of 10 people who are
      homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger
      have received some kind of aid since the cyclone hit
      May 3.

      The government's abilities are limited. It has only a
      few dozen helicopters, most of which are small and
      old. It also has about 15 transport planes, primarily
      small jets unable to carry hundreds of tons of
      supplies.

      "Not only don't they have the capacity to deliver
      assistance, they don't have experience," said
      Farmaner, the British aid worker. "It's already too
      late for many people. Every day of delays is costing
      thousands of lives."
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