By Khin Ohmar
(UPIAsiaonline) - The United Nations has more than doubled its appeal to member nations to fund humanitarian relief work in Burma’s cyclone-afflicted regions. It is urging donors to give a further US$280 million in addition to the US$201 million requested on May 9. The new total of US$481 million is earmarked for 103 projects submitted by 13 U.N. agencies and 23 NGOs, with the greatest increases for the agricultural and early recovery sectors.
Ibrahim Gambari, special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general to Myanmar, met with ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan to express his appreciation for the leadership ASEAN has provided in the humanitarian mission in Burma. ASEAN stated its commitment to further cooperation with the United Nations and its agencies in the ongoing relief efforts.
A U.N. spokesperson announced on July 15 that Gambari will travel to Burma in mid-August, after several postponements. The visit has sparked an internal debate within the United Nations as to how effective Gambari can be in spurring on dialogue. Burmese opposition actors also expressed their mounting frustration over Gambari’s lack of progress.
UNICEF claimed that disaster recovery and relief efforts are progressing well in cyclone-afflicted areas, despite logistical difficulties. It further announced that out of 428 children separated from their parents, 15 were reunited with their families.
Monks in the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon reported that many children orphaned by the cyclone are being employed in low-paid jobs. While they prefer to stay in their own communities, many have been forced to migrate to the cities to find work.
Burma’s state media announced that 1,670 visa have been granted to international aid workers and foreign officials.
The families of Zarganar, Zaw That Htyaw and members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions that were detained while collecting bodies of cyclone victims reported that they have received no information on their relatives.
Authorities in Maungdaw Township are allegedly borrowing rice and medicine from local traders in order to make a show of large-scale donations to the Nargis relief effort. One resident reported, “I heard the authorities want to record the goods on video and camera as Nargis relief in front of the new Western Command commander to propagate the news story in state-run media.”
New reports have emerged that the regime may be skimming as much as 20 percent off the top of incoming aid money designated for Nargis relief efforts. The regime currently forces international NGOs and U.N. agencies to convert incoming funds into the regime’s special Foreign Exchange Currency, which is supposed to be on parity with the U.S. dollar.
However, the FEC has weakened in recent months, partly due to the regime’s excessive printing of the currency, which means that the regime receives hard U.S. currency while agencies get a weaker FEC in return. The top U.N. humanitarian affairs officer, John Holmes, has promised to look into the allegations.
In a move probably intended to tighten their grip on the dissemination of information regarding the aftermath of the cyclone, Burmese authorities asked the United Nations to hold its weekly press conferences in Rangoon rather than in Bangkok. John Holmes announced that the Bangkok press conferences would continue.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister, George Yeo, gave ASEAN a “C” rating for its response to cyclone Nargis in Burma.
Burma ratified ASEAN’s new charter, which sets some ground rules for the regional grouping on human rights and democracy. Burma vowed to uphold the charter’s democratic ideals.
On July 21 ASEAN issued a rebuke of the Burmese regime from its annual meeting in Singapore. The regional organization called for “meaningful dialogue” between the regime and opposition forces. At the meeting, Burma’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win hinted that Aung San Suu Kyi could be released within the next six months, but then quickly took back the statement.
The Post-Nargis Joint Assessment report, produced by the United Nations, ASEAN, and the Burmese military government, was released on July 21 at the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in Singapore. The report claims that Cyclone Nargis caused US$4 billion in damage, left 84,537 dead and 53,836 missing and impacted the lives of 2.4 million people out of a population of 7.35 million living in the affected townships. The report states that Burma will need an additional US$1 billion for relief and reconstruction efforts.
The National League for Democracy was challenged by the junta to form a political party to contest the 2010 elections. An article in the regime’s mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar dubbed the NLD victory “illegal” because the recent referendum “results” mean that “it has been ditched by the entire people who are desirous of the emergence of a new, modern, developed democratic nation.” The NLD does not recognize the referendum results.
The military regime is pressuring ethnic ceasefire groups to disarm and form political parties to stand in the 2010 elections. Most groups remain undecided, according to reports. The Mon National Democratic Front will not form a new political party and will not take part in the 2010 elections because the party did not accept the “approved” Constitution.
Violent resistance to the military dictatorship in Burma is growing more likely inside Burma, according to new reports. The British newspaper the Guardian interviewed monks and activists involved in the Saffron Revolution who now support armed resistance. Noted American intellectual Noam Chomsky was also quoted in the Bangkok Post as saying that armed resistance in Burma was morally justified.
The U.S. House of Representatives on July 15 unanimously passed the Block Burmese Jade Act, a law that would place additional financial and trade sanctions on the Burmese military regime. If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the bill will ban the import of Burmese jadeite and rubies into the United States, a major revenue source for the country's military regime. Aung Din, co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, which pushed for the bill, said, "This legislation sends a strong signal to Burma's military regime that the U.S. stands firmly on the side of my country's democracy movement."
A Burmese opposition umbrella group, the National Council of the Union of Burma, launched a campaign on July 14 that seeks to challenge the regime’s credentials at the United Nations. The NCUB will submit a challenge to the U.N. credentials committee, which annually affirms the right of a government to represent its country, based on the regime’s human rights record and its refusal to honor the results of the 1990 elections that would have brought an end to military rule in Burma.
(Khin Ohmar is coordinator of the Asia Pacific Peoples' Partnership on Burma, based in Thailand. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Her blog may be found at http://apppb.blogspot.com.)