Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Gov’t Tightens Restrictions on Relief Efforts

The Irrawaddy News

As Burma’s state-run media urged private citizens to donate “cash and kind” to relief efforts in the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, donors say that the government is moving to tighten its control over private donations.

On Monday, The New Light of Myanmar, a junta mouthpiece, announced that donations could be made through the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Sub-committee of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee, as well as through authorities at the district and township levels.

Although the announcement did not state that donations had to be made through these channels, sources actively involved in relief efforts say that the junta’s invitation to would-be donors was effectively an order.

“The restrictions have now been stated publicly in the government’s newspapers, but actually, tighter controls on private donations started at least two weeks ago,” said one private donor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Donors must now get permission from the authorities before making any donations.”

According to the announcement in The New Light of Myanmar, cash donations should be made to Col Hla Thein Swe, the deputy finance and revenue minister, or to two high-ranking officials of Burma’s central bank, Maung Maung Win and Kyaw Win Tin.

Relief items should be donated to Than Oo, director general of the relief and resettlement department, or Aung Tun Khaing, an official of the social welfare department.

The newspaper also listed the officials’ phone numbers.

The junta has arrested at least five private relief workers recently. Zarganar, a well-known comedian who led relief efforts by Burmese celebrities and organized one of the biggest local relief groups was arrested on June 4.

Two female aid workers, Yin Yin Wei and Tin Tin Cho, were arrested last Thursday along with their colleague Myat Thu. Zaw Thet Htway, a journalist and a private relief worker, was arrested on Friday.

“People who have a history of political activity have the most trouble when they get involved in relief work. People who have contact with the opposition party also find it difficult. Other relief workers who do not have good relations with the authorities also get into trouble,” said Khin Zaw Win, a Burmese researcher and relief worker in Rangoon.

Analysts say the recent arrests were an attempt by the ruling junta to weaken Burma’s civil society, which has gained strength through its involvement in relief efforts after the cyclone.

Meanwhile, villagers in Laputta Township in the Irrawaddy delta, one of the worst-hit areas, complained about corruption by local authorities, the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Kyi Win, a member of the NLD’s disaster response committee, said that the party received a letter from residents of the villages of Nyaung Lein and Peti, explaining that local authorities took 20 head of cattle which were supposed to be distributed to farmers who lost livestock in the disaster.

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