Myanmar junta hands out aid boxes with generals'
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
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
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
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
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
"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."