Thursday, 22 May 2008

Cyclone Survivors Don’t Want UN Chief to Visit Delta

The Irrawaddy News

Many cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta say they don’t want UN chief Ban Ki-moon to visit their camps and temporary shelters for fear the military regime will tighten security and intimidate people who have lost family members and homes.

Burma’s best-known comedian Zarganar and other Burmese private donors who visited the cyclone-ravaged delta recently said that many cyclone survivors are so desperate for food and relief supplies they do not want the UN secretary-general and his delegation to jeopardize the situation.

Already suffering from fatigue and depression, many of the cyclone survivors who are now homeless have endured the additional stress of being part of the regime leaders’ “inspections,” said Zarganar.

In Kungyangone, police and local authorities drove through the streets using loudspeakers to tell people not to go out begging for food along the road one day before Snr-Gen Than Shwe visited the town on May 19. They warned cyclone victims that they would be arrested and punished if they took to begging in the street.

Local officials in Kungyangone prepared in advance food packages and relief supplies in front of tents to show Burma’s paramount leaders that their relief operation was going well.

Private Burmese aid donors who traveled to the delta said that, in spite of the devastation caused by the cyclone, the regime wanted to portray a positive image. The philanthropists said that the regime is concerned that the reality on the ground is in sharp contrast with the propaganda broadcast on the news in the state-run media.

The military authorities are eager to show that situation is under control, the Burmese donors said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to meet with Snr-Gen Than Shwe in Rangoon this week after being snubbed for more than a week by the reclusive junta leader. He will also visit the Irrawaddy delta, the region most devastated by tropical cyclone Nargis on May 2-3.

With another high-level visit on the way, cyclone survivors are saying “No more visits!” said Zarganar, who is now actively involved in the relief effort.

Before the arrival of any VIP guests, more soldiers are deployed and security guards clear roads, he said. Meanwhile, cyclone survivors who are already without sufficient food and relief supplies are now concerned that their rations will be cut because private donors will be unable to visit them during the UN secretary-general’s visit.

Ban is scheduled to stay in Burma for several days and plans to attend a donor conference on Sunday in Rangoon.

Aung Naing Oo, a Burma analyst based in Thailand, said that the regime is security conscious and more people will suffer because of the UN’s high-level visit to the area.

“The regime will clear roads and the surrounding areas when Ban is scheduled to visit,” he said. “People who are begging from dawn to dusk will not get food or money to survive during his visit.”

Zarganar also expressed concern that Ban won’t see the true severity of the situation on the ground.

“The regime,” he said, “would project a positive image. But people on the ground won’t be allowed to say anything and will be punished if they do.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of villagers who took refuge in monasteries and schools in Bogalay after the cyclone have been forced to return to their villages by security forces.

Sources in Bogalay also confirmed that a boat carrying cyclone survivors sank near Bogalay on Monday evening. No further details were immediately available.

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