BurmaNet News, May 31, 2008
editor at burmanet.org
Sat May 31 10:57:09 EDT 2008
May 31, 2008 Issue # 3481
IHT: In desperate times, Burmese turn to their monks
Mizzima News: Burma allows entry to aid workers at snail's pace
AP: Help is scant in Myanmar village deep inside delta
Irrawaddy: Burmese celebrities try to help survivors
DVB: School opening delayed in cyclone-hit areas
BUSINESS / TRADE
Irrawaddy: Weekly business roundup
IPS: Burma: Asean steps in where others may not tread
AP: Burma aid obstruction cost tens of thousands of lives, US Defense
AP: Burma must stop evicting cyclone survivors, rights groups say
OPINION / OTHER
Irrawaddy: The misery will continue if the world just watches - Yeni
Mizzima News: Iron grip of junta despite cyclone - May Ng
May 30, International Herald Tribune
In desperate times, Burmese turn to their monks
Kun Wan, Myanmar: It is a scene Myanmars ruling generals are unlikely to
see played out for themselves: As a convoy of trucks carrying relief
supplies, led by Buddhist monks, passed through storm-devastated villages,
hungry children and homeless mothers bowed in supplication and respect.
When I see those people, I want to cry, said Sitagu Sayadaw, 71, one of
Myanmars most respected senior monks.
At his makeshift clinic in this village near Bogalay, an Irrawaddy Delta
town 120 kilometers, or 75 miles, southwest of Yangon, hundreds of
villagers left destitute by Cyclone Nargis arrive each day seeking the
assistance they have not received from the junta or international aid
They paddle for hours on the stormy river, or carry their sick parents on
their backs through the mud and rain - all traveling from kilometers
around to reach the one source of help they know they can always depend
on: Buddhist monks.
The May 3 cyclone left more than 134,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million
survivors grappling with hunger and homelessness. Recently, people who had
taken shelter at monasteries or gathered on roadsides waiting for aid to
arrive were being displaced again, this time by the junta, which wants
them to stop being an embarrassment to the government and return to their
villages for reconstruction. UN officials said Friday that refugees were
also being evicted from government-run camps.
But they have little left of their homes and find themselves almost as
exposed to the elements there as their mud-coated water buffaloes.
Meanwhile, outside aid is slow to arrive, with foreign aid agencies
gaining only incremental access to the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta and the
government impounding cars of some private Burmese donors.
In my entire life, I have never seen a hospital. I dont know where the
government office is. I cant buy anything in the market because I lost
everything to the cyclone, said Thi Dar. So I came to the monk.
With tears welling in her eyes, the 45-year-old woman pressed her hands
together in respect before the first monk she saw at Sitagus clinic and
told her story. The other eight members of her family were killed in the
cyclone. She now felt suicidal but no longer had anyone to talk with. The
other day, word reached her village that a monk had opened a clinic 10
kilometers upriver. So on Thursday, she got up early and caught the first
boat going upstream.
Nay Lin, 36, a volunteer doctor at the Kun Wan clinic, one of the six
emergency clinic shelters Sitagu has opened in the delta, said: Our
patients suffer from infected wounds, abdominal pains and vomiting. They
also need counseling for mental trauma, anxiety and depression.
Since the cyclone, the Burmese have become even closer to the monks while
their alienation from the junta grows. This bodes ill for the government,
which brutally cracked down on thousands of monks when they took to the
streets last September appealing to the generals to improve conditions for
Village after storm-hit village, it is clear who has won peoples hearts.
Some monks died with people in the storm. Now, others console the
survivors while sharing their muddy squalor.
While the government has been criticized for obstructing the relief
effort, the Buddhist monastery, the traditional center of moral authority
in most villages here, proved to be the one institution people could rely
on for help.
Monasteries in the delta - those still standing after the storm - were
clogged with refugees. People went there with donations or as volunteers.
Monasteries that served as religious centers, orphanages and homes for the
elderly were now also shelters for the homeless.
The monks role is more important than ever, said Ar Sein Na, 46, a monk
in the delta village of That Kyar. In a time of immense suffering like
this, people have nowhere to go except to monks.
Kyi Than, 38, said she had traveled 25 kilometers by boat to Sitagus camp.
Our village monk died during the storm. I felt so good today having my
first chance to talk to a monk since the storm. Monks are like parents to
us, she said. The government wants us to shut up, but monks listen to
Faced with the countrys deadliest natural disaster in recent memory,
senior monks have organized their own relief campaigns.
Every day, their convoys head down delta roads. A leading figure in these
efforts is Sitagu, whose name invariably draws words of reverence or a
thumbs-up sign here.
Meditation cannot remove this disaster. Material support is very
important now, Sitagu said. Now in our country, spiritual and material
support are unbalanced.
Trucks of rice, beans, onions, clothes, tarpaulins and cooking utensils,
donated from all over Myanmar, pulled into Sitagus International Buddhist
Missionary Center in Yangon from early morning on. Each day, shortly after
dawn, a convoy of trucks or a barge on the Yangon River departs for the
delta, loaded with relief supplies and volunteers.
Among villagers here, Sitagu appeared to command as much authority as the
pope among Roman Catholics. As he sat on a wooden bench in his field
headquarters, people lined up to pay their respects. Villagers came to
present lists of their most urgent needs. Monks from outlying villages
came asking for help to repair their temples. Rich families from towns
knelt before him and donated bundles of cash.
However, like other senior monks here he must strike a careful balance. He
has the moral duty to speak out on behalf of his suffering people but he
must also protect his social programs and hospitals, which provide free
medical care to the destitute in a country whose government views such
private undertakings as a reproof.
But, speaking at his shelter as an afternoon monsoon rain drummed against
the roof, Sitagu sounded frustrated with the government.
In my country, I cannot see a real political leader. General Than Shwes
Burmese way to democracy? he said, referring to the juntas top leader.
What is it?
He defended the monks uprising last September, saying the governments
failures to provide material stability for the people undermined the
monks ability to provide spiritual stability.
Among monks interviewed in the delta and Yangon, there was no sign of
imminent organized protests.
Still, a 40-year-old monk at Sitagus camp said that monks are very
angry about the governments recent move to evict refugees from
monasteries, roadside huts and other temporary shelters, even while the
state-run media are filled with stories of government relief efforts. The
government doesnt want to show the truth.
A young monk in the Chaukhtatgyi Paya monastery district in Yangon
predicted trouble ahead. You will see it again because everyone is angry
and everyone is jobless, said the monk, who said he joined the September
saffron revolution and had a large gash over his right eye from a
soldiers beating to show for it.
A monk from Mon State in southern Myanmar, who was visiting the delta to
assess the damage and arrange an aid shipment, said: For the government,
these people are no more than dead animals in the fields.
The simmering confrontation between the two pillars of Myanmar life today
- the military and the Buddhist clergy - was evident at the village level
after the cyclone.
Shortly after the storm, a monk in Myo Thit, a village 30 kilometers from
Yangon, walked around with a loudspeaker inviting victims to his monastery
and asking people to donate. The monk had to stop, villagers said, after a
township leader affiliated with the government threatened to confiscate
The interdependence between monks and lay people is age-old. Monks receive
alms - food, medicine, clothes, cash to buy books - from the laity. In
return, they offer spiritual comfort. In villages without government
schools, a monastic education is often the only one available for
There is a relationship of reciprocity between monks and the lay people,
said Desmond Chou, a Burmese-born scholar of comparative religion in New
Delhi. If a fire breaks out in a Myanmar village, it is usually the
monks, not firefighters, who arrive first to rescue the people.
May 31, Mizzima News
Burma allows entry to aid workers at snail's pace - Solomon
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
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
May 31, Associated Press
Help is scant in Myanmar village deep inside delta
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
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,
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
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
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?"
May 30, Irrawaddy
Burmese celebrities try to help survivors - Violet Cho
A planned public fundraising drive by the well-known Moustache Brothers
comedy troupe to collect money to help Cyclone Nargis survivors was halted
by a professional entertainers association in Mandalay on Thursday.
The Moustache Brothers, who are known for their support of the
pro-democracy movement, were told they could not go out to raise funds
alone. The association said, however, that they could join its fundraising
drive scheduled on Thursday.
Burmese actor Lu Min offers dry clothes to cyclone survivors.
The Moustache Brothers declined the offer. The comedy troupe has been
banned from performing in public by the military authorities for nearly a
The Mandalay's Myanma Theatrical Association, which is authorized by the
military government, put on a fundraising drive on Thursday with dancers
and musicians who rode around the city in cars to collect donations.
Two of the Mustache Brothers performers, Par Par Lay and his cousin, Lu
Zaw, were arrested last September in Mandalay for their public support of
the pro-democracy demonstrations when they offered alms to Buddhist monks
at a monastery. Par Par Lay spent about one month in prison.
Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw were sentenced to prison for seven years in the
1990s for making fun of the military regime.
All of the comedians were excited and enthusiastic, said Lu Maw. We
were ready to go out to raise funds when people come to stop us.
The performers association, which is authorized by the military
government, took other comedians, dancers and musicians around Mandalay in
cars to collect public donations on Thursday.
Elsewhere, the regime has allowed some movie stars and musicians to
organize concerts to raise funds for cyclone survivors.
Several popular bands and singers will join in a concert on June 7 in
Rangoon sponsored by the Myanmar Brewery Co Ltd, according to the
state-run newspaper Kyaymon (The Mirror) o¬n Thursday.
In addition, several high-profile movie stars and entertainers have taken
on public fundraising roles.
The well-known Rangoon musician, Zaw Win Htut, said he and fellow
volunteers recently made several trips to the delta region to deliver
rice, cooking oil, salt and other supplies to people in the hard-hit
We are now thinking more about reconstruction, he said. We are
considering helping to build schools because all of the schools in the
damaged areas are destroyed.
The Burmese comedian and social activist Zargana has also performed
high-profile relief work in the Irrawaddy Delta.
There are many survivors in small fishing villages on remote islands
which private aid groups can not reach because the transportation is very
bad, he said. People are in a desperate situation with the loss of
family members and no relief assistance.
May 31, Democratic Voice of Burma
School opening delayed in cyclone-hit areas
The start of the school term is likely to be delayed in many areas
affected by the recent cyclone while schools are rebuilt, but efforts are
underway to reopen as soon as possible.
One parent in Bogalay said the schools would not reopen until July, though
this had not been officially announced.
"But the township's educational administration chairman said they had been
told by senior authorities that it would be postponed," the parent said.
"Parents in Bogalay can't concentrate much on their children's education
at the moment. Everyone is desperate for food thats their first
The parent said that many families would find it hard to get the money for
school fees for their children.
"The school entrance fee for a grade 9 student is 2500 kyat, but
apparently the school's headmistress has told school clerks to let
children in whose families can't afford to pay for it," he said.
"But apart from High School (1) in Bogalay, all the schools were knocked
down by the cyclone and they haven't been rebuilt yet."
According to the United Nations, more than 4000 basic education schools
were damaged or destroyed by the cyclone, affecting around 1.1 million
The UN Childrens Fund, UNICEF, has said it will work with the Burmese
Ministry of Education to try to reopen schools in some of the affected
areas by 2 June.
The joint project will focus on schools in more remote areas that have not
yet been reached by aid agencies.
BUSINESS / TRADE
May 31, Irrawaddy
Weekly business roundup - William Boot
Chinese to Join Daewoo in Burma Oil, Gas Exploration
A Chinese state company has secretly agreed a joint venture with South
Koreas leading conglomerate Daewoo to explore for oil and gas in Burma.
No details of the venture have yet been disclosed, other than a brief
announcement of the agreement on the Internet site of China National
The deal was brokered by the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, which is a
nominal partner in all oil and gas ventures in Burma.
Daewoo is the lead developer in two blocks of the Shwe field, which has
proven reserves of about 6 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, in Bay
of Bengal waters close to the border with Bangladesh.
The South Koreans made no secret of their displeasure when China muscled
in on a deal with MOGE on the Shwe gas, most of which will eventually be
piped over land to the Chinese province of Yunnan.
This begins to look like a sweetener for Daewoo, who were not happy that
their investment in Shwe with two Indian companies had been effectively
hijacked by the Chinese, said industry analyst Sar Watana in Bangkok on
It will be interesting to see if the Burmese have released more blocks in
the Shwe field for exploration.
The timing is certainly a little insensitive, given the huge aid and
recovery program still trying to get under way over there from the
Chevron Says Its Burma Presence Benefits Local People
The US oil and gas company Chevron has said it will not quit Burma,
despite pressure from both the US Congress and human rights groups.
Burma regime opponents in the Congress are attempting to pass a law that
would stop Chevron paying money to the junta from its profits from the
Yadana gas field in the Andaman Sea.
Chevron has a 28 percent share in the fields gas well, which is operated
by the French company Total.
The gas is piped to Thailand, via western Burma, where human rights groups
allege that Burmese soldiers guarding the pipeline abuse local people.
But in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, Chevron Vice-Chairman Peter Robertson
told a US Senate committee his company had no plans to end its business
interests in Burma.
Our plan is to stay in Burma. Ive been there and I've seen the people
that live in the area where we operate along our pipeline system. I know
for a fact that they are better off by us being there than by anybody else
being there, Robertson said, according to media reports.
However, the US-based human rights NGO EarthRights International says it
has fresh evidence, indirectly implicating Chevron, of human rights abuses
by Burmese soldiers guarding the Yadana pipeline.
Chevron has not said how it would keep operating in Burma if the US
Congress does succeed in passing legislation to block tax relief on its
Yadana investments and to stop it paying operating fees to the junta.
Chevron says it has donated US $2 million in relief aid for Cyclone Nargis
Indian MPs Meet Look East Trade Route Roadblocks
The farce of much-discussed trade expansion between India and Burma across
the land border at Moreh continued this week when a team of Indian federal
parliament MPs and officials visited the town to assess progress, Indian
Unfortunately, as the team flew into Imphal, capital of Manipur state
bordering Burma, they encountered a persistent problemroad blocks on the
only highway to Moreh, which is opposite the Burmese town of Tamu.
The MPs had to negotiate blockades imposed by several civil groups
protesting criminal and rebel gangs who plague the Moreh-Imphal route
demanding taxes, reported Indias Telegraph newspaper.
The MPs met police and trade groups at the border, which is often also
closed because of violence such as bombings.
The trade organizations demanded free trade instead of the existing
barter system, inclusion of more trade items and opening of bus services
between Imphal and Moreh, said the Telegraph report.
The stop-go commerce across this rare official border crossing between the
two countries contradicts repeated declarations by the federal government
in New Delhi of closer commercial links with Burma, as part of its Look
East policy, analysts say.
Imphal is the main urban growth link in a so-called business corridor
between India and Burma, and is receiving development aid from the Asian
Development Bank. But the road link and the border towns are repeatedly
disrupted by ethnic violence and huge monetary demands by over a dozen
armed rebels operating in the region, said Imphals Sangai Express.
May 31, Inter Press Service
Burma: Asean steps in where others may not tread - Marwaan Macan-Marker
Four weeks after Cyclone Nargis swept through the populous Irrawaddy delta
in Burma, a regional effort to help the victims is slowly grinding into
On Friday, Burmas 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 juntas growing list of human rights violations.
Yet at times, even Aseans 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 Aseans
outspoken leaders to throw Burma out of the group when the abuse of the
local population by the junta went too far.
Aseans 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
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 Aseans 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.
Aseans 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 juntas 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 Aseans plans, a rapid assessment team will survey the
terrain in South-western Burma that was devastated by the countrys 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 cyclones 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.
May 31, Associated Press
Burma aid obstruction cost tens of thousands of lives, US Defense Chief says
Burmas obstruction of international efforts to help cyclone victims cost
tens of thousands of lives, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said
Saturday in his strongest condemnation to date of the military government
Burmas Deputy Defense Minister Maj-Gen Aye Myint listens to the keynote
address during the opening session of the Shangri-La Dialogue security
conference, held in Singapore on Friday. (Photo: AP)
We have reached out, frankly, to Myanmar [Burma] multiple times during
this crisis in very direct ways, Gates told an international audience.
Its not been us that have been deaf and dumb in response to the pleas of
the international community, but the government of Myanmar. We have
reached out; they have kept their hands in their pockets.
With US, British and French Navy ships off the coast of Burma poised to
leave because they have been blocked from delivering assistance to the
ravaged country, Gates said the US will not forcibly bring in supplies
without permission of the government and will continue to respect the
sovereignty of Burma.
The growing displeasure with the Burmese government has permeated this
weeks conference on international security, coming up in nearly all
conversations between leaders from around the world. Military officials
have indicated that they are about to withdraw the US Navy ships within
days, since it does not appear that the Burmese government will change its
mind and allow the vessels to unload their supplies.
Gates said the US has provided aid to other countries while respecting
their independence. But with Burma, he said, the situation has been very
differentat a cost of tens of thousands of lives. Many other countries
besides the United States also have felt hindered in their efforts.
The Pentagon chief also rejected one conference questioners suggestion
that America is using sanctions and isolating Burma, similar to failed US
policies against Cuba. And he insisted that efforts to provide aid will
In a wide-ranging speech, Gates looked ahead to the next White House
administration, saying the new US president will inherit the worrisome
issue of North Koreas nuclear ambitions but will continue Americas
enduring commitment to Asia.
While he said he could not make specific policy predictions for the next
administration, Gates told the annual Shangri-la conference that there
will be no change in our drive to temper North Koreas ambitions, a
policy not possible without Chinas valued cooperation.
Despite the often divergent views of the Republican and Democratic
candidates, Gates said he is confident that the strong US ties to Asia
will continue no matter which political party occupies the White House
Any speculation in the region about the United States losing interest in
Asia strikes me as either preposterous, or disingenuous, or both, he
The reference to China was one of several in a speech that sounded two
distinct tones on the communist giantat times extending a friendly hand
and at others offering a subtle but somber warning.
Gates first noted that relations with China have improved, and that
leaders have begun a series of discussions on issues to help us
understand one another better, and to avoid possible misunderstanding.
A long-sought direct telephone link between the US and China has finally
been established, and Gates said he used it recently to speak with the
On the other hand, Gates took unmistakable jabs at China without
mentioning its name, calling, for example, for greater openness about
military modernization in Asia.
In recent annual reports the Pentagon has criticized China for its massive
military buildup, saying its motives and spending are unclear.
We desire to work with every country in Asia to deepen our understanding
of their military and defense finances, and to do so on a reciprocal
basis, Gates said.
Lack of such clarity, Gates said, can lead to outright suspicion.
In response, the top-ranking Chinese official at the forum took aim at US
missile defense policieswhich include plans for anti-missile defenses
with Japan, as well as the deployment of missile defense sites in Poland
and the Czech Republic.
Lt-Gen Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the General Staff for the Peoples
Liberation Army, said developing such an offensiverather than purely
defensivesystem could tip the balance of power and threaten peace.
We do not support either side to take the initiative to break the
balance, he said. He also dismissed claims that Chinas military is
dramatically expanding. Chinas spending on defense, he said, is low.
Gates has consistently sounded a more conciliatory tone toward China,
which he visited late last year for high-level meetings with the countrys
leaders. However, relations have been strained by revelations in March
that the US military mistakenly delivered fuses for long-range missiles to
Taiwan, triggering a strong protest from Beijing.
On Friday, Gates declined to discuss the lengthy report he received
Tuesday on the blunder and, more broadly, on the Pentagons handling of
Gates, who has made four major trips to Asia during his 17-month tenure as
Pentagon chief, has also suggested that the USas a Pacific nationhas
been a key factor in the ability of other Asian countries to grow and
In another veiled reference to China, he said the US presence in the
region has opened doors and protected common spaces on the high seas, in
space and, more and more, in the cyber-world.
US officials have suspected the Chinese of trying to hack into US
government computers. In one instance, a number of Pentagon computers had
to be taken off line for several daysbut officials never openly blamed
Gates was scheduled to leave Singapore on Sunday and then visit defense
leaders in Thailand and South Korea.
May 31, Associated Press
Burma must stop evicting cyclone survivors, rights groups say
Human rights groups lashed out on Saturday at Burma's military leaders for
evicting cyclone refugees from relief camps and forcing them back to their
The US-based group Human Rights Watch said hundreds, if not thousands, of
displaced people had also been expelled from schools, monasteries and
public buildings. In the nation's biggest city, Rangoon, there were
eyewitness reports of one eviction from a Christian church.
A UN official said on Friday the government was making cyclone survivors
leave the camps and "dumping" them near their devastated villages with
virtually no aid supplies.
Another group, Refugees International, said authorities appeared to be
trying to get villagers back to their land to begin tending their fields
and reviving agriculture.
"While agriculture recovery is indeed vital, forcing people home without
aid makes it harder for aid agencies to reach them with assistance," it
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates added his voice on Saturday to critics
of the junta's handling of the humanitarian crisis, saying that its
obstruction of international efforts to help cyclone victims cost "tens of
thousands of lives."
With US ships off Burma's coast poised to leave because they have been
blocked from delivering assistance to the ravaged country, Gates said in a
speech in Singapore the US will continue to try to get aid in.
US military officials have indicated they are about to withdraw the navy
ships, since it did not appear the Burmese regime would allow them to
unload their supplies.
Eight camps set up for homeless survivors in the Irrawaddy River delta
town of Bogalay were "totally empty" as authorities continued to move
people out of them, Teh Tai Ring of the United Nations Children's Fund, or
UNICEF, said at a meeting of UN and private aid agency workers discussing
water and sanitation issues.
"The government is moving people unannounced," he said, adding authorities
were "dumping people in the approximate location of the villages,
basically with nothing."
After his statement was reported, UNICEF issued a statement saying the
remarks referred to "unconfirmed reports by relief workers on the
relocation of displaced people affected by" the May 2-3 storm.
In his remarks at the water experts' meeting, however, Teh said the
information came from a relief worker who had just returned from the
affected area and that "tears were shed" when he recounted his findings
earlier in the day.
Separately, at a church in Rangoon, more than 400 cyclone victims from a
delta township, Laputta, were evicted Friday following orders from
authorities a day earlier.
"It was a scene of sadness, despair and pain," said a church official at
the Yangon [Rangoon] Karen Baptist Home Missions, speaking on condition of
anonymity for fear of official reprisals. "Those villagers lost their
homes, their family members and the whole village was washed away. They
have no home to go back to."
He said all the refuge-seekers except some pregnant women, two young
children and those with severe illnesses left the church in 11 trucks on
The authorities told church workers the victims would first be taken to a
government camp in Myaung Myaa mostly undamaged town in the Irrawaddy
deltabut it was not immediately clear when they would be resettled in
their own villages.
Anupama Rao Singh, regional director of UNICEF, who visited the affected
area recently, warned on Saturday against premature resettlement. She did
not confirm that evictions had taken place.
"Premature resettlements to the villages, even if it's voluntary, will
cause serious risks to the refugees," she said.
"Many of the villages remain inundated with water, making it difficult to
rebuild. There is also a real risk that once they are resettled, they will
be invisible to aid workers. Without support and continued service to
those affected, there is a risk of a second wave of disease and
devastation," she said.
Aid groups, meanwhile, said the Burmese military government was continuing
to hinder foreign assistance for victims of the cyclone, despite a promise
to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ease travel restrictions.
Some foreign aid workers were still awaiting visas, and the government was
taking 48 hours to process requests to enter the Irrawaddy delta, the
An estimated 2.4 million people remain homeless and hungry after the
cyclone hit Burma. Official estimates say the storm killed 78,000 people
and left another 56,000 missing.
Teh said some of the refugees were "being given rations and then they are
forced to move." But others were being denied such aid because they had
lost their identity cards, he said.
The government's reasons for allegedly moving people out of camps and
shelters have not been publicly clarified, but it earlier declared the
"relief" phase of the rescue effort over and said it was time for
Foreign aid experts disagree, arguing many people still need emergency
assistance of food, shelter or medical care.
"Our teams are still encountering people who have not seen any aid workers
and still have not received any assistance. Some of the villages that are
only accessible by foot are particularly vulnerable," said the aid group
Médecins Sans Frontières.
Aid workers who have reached some of the remote villages say little
remained that could sustain the former residents. Houses were destroyed,
livestock were dead and food stocks have virtually run out. They said
medicines were nonexistent.
"The forced evictions are part of government efforts to demonstrate that
the emergency relief period is over and that the affected population is
capable of rebuilding their lives without foreign assistance," Human
Rights Watch said.
OPINION / OTHER
May 31, Irrawaddy
The misery will continue if the world just watches - Yeni
Burma's cyclone survivors have endured a seemingly endless series of
heartbreaks and hazards over the past month.
The Burmese juntas 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 governments 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
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.
May 31, Mizzima News
Iron grip of junta despite cyclone - May Ng
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
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
While the Burmese junta continues to rebuff the offer of essential aid
from the Americans and French Navy---China 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
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.
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