Monday, 12 May 2008

Junta rewards nursing student for supporting referendum

KNG - A seemingly grateful Burmese ruling junta rewarded students of the Nursing and Midwife School with a token amount of money and bread in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, northern Burma yesterday, said school sources.

Sources close to the school said, all students were given 500 Kyat and a piece of bread for supporting the referendum to approve the draft constitution on May 10 by U Dai Hu, the head organizer of the junta-sponsored Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) in Du Kahtawng quarter where the school is situated.

The National Registration Cards and Family Unit documents were taken away by the Quarter Administrative Office (Ya-Ya-Ka) of Du Kahtawng before the day of the referendum and all students' votes were collected as 'Yes' ballots without their going to the polling booths, sources close to the students said.

The school has over 150 students including students from Kachin ceasefire groups --- the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), sources added.

The local vote commission also got 100 percent 'Yes' votes from the students in the Education College, former Teacher Training School (TTS) in Du Kahtawng where over 400 students are studying, school sources said.

During last Saturday's referendum in Myitkyina Township, the vote commissions counted the ballots in secrecy in some polling booths with the help of USDA members and converted many 'No' ballots to 'Yes' votes, voters told KNG.

A student referendum watch group based in Myitkyina told KNG, 10 of 8 voters in the polling booths in the township cast 'No' votes.

In Burma, a U.N. Promise Not Kept

By Fred Hiatt

May 12, 2008 - When a parent abuses or neglects a child, government steps in to offer protection. But who steps in when government abuses or neglects its people?

Nearly three years ago, the United Nations announced an answer to that question: It would. At a summit celebrating the organization's 60th birthday, 171 nations agreed that they would intervene, forcefully if necessary, if a state failed to protect its own people. The action was seen as both a sign of remorse for the failure to stop genocide in Rwanda and a rebuke to the United States and its unilateral ways.

"I'm delighted that the responsibility to protect, a Canadian idea, now belongs to the world," said Canada's prime minister at the time, Paul Martin. "The United Nations will not find itself turning away or averting its gaze."

Since then the United Nations has averted its gaze as Sudan's government continues to ravage the people of Darfur. It has turned away as Zimbabwe's rulers terrorize their own people. Now it is bowing to Burma's sovereignty as that nation's junta allows more than a million victims of Cyclone Nargis to face starvation, dehydration, cholera and other miseries rather than allow outsiders to offer aid on the scale that's needed.

In light of America's troubles in Iraq, the pendulum in the United States has swung toward multilateral solutions and international law. All three candidates to replace President Bush have promised to restore alliances and put more faith in allies.

But the stalemate in Burma, also known as Myanmar, shows how difficult it is to translate "responsibility to protect" into action. It's hard to imagine a government more deserving of losing the national equivalent of its parental rights; yet it seems more likely that hundreds of thousands of people will die needlessly than that the United Nations will act.

Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has spent years in and around Burma, fighting the intransigence of the regime to help the Burmese people. What he has learned, as he said last week, is that "the regime does not have the interest of the people as its fundamental concern." Almost all its actions before the storm and since can be understood in this light: The junta cares about its own survival, not the survival of its people.

So even before the devastating storm swept in around midnight May 2, the Burmese were vulnerable. One-third of children under 5 were undernourished. With 3 percent of government spending going to public health, compared with 40 percent to the military, there was a dearth of doctors and clinics. In many areas malaria and tuberculosis posed severe threats.

The government failed to warn people of the approaching storm and has failed to help them since. It apparently does not want to risk whatever benefit might redound to Western countries for deploying the "soft power" of assistance. Saturday it deployed its army northward, to beat and browbeat people to vote yes in a phony referendum intended to make military rule permanent, rather than southward, where 1.5 million people were homeless and 65 percent of territory was under water.

Yet when France reminded the United Nations of its "responsibility to protect," China, Russia and their ever-reliable voting partner, Thabo Mbeki's South Africa, slammed the door. So tons of aid float just offshore as Burma's generals sleep comfortably in their remote jungle capital and China's rulers can proudly, once again, take credit for defending the principle of national sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the Burmese people themselves do not give up. Small teams of aid workers from persecuted dissident groups are making their way south, offering what little assistance they can, though soldiers at times confiscate their goods. And in the delta, one Burmese managed to inform a friend outside, "many people keep looking up to the sky -- literally." Ten days after the cyclone, they are waiting for helicopters, which for many will appear too late or not at all.

Myanmar accepts int'l aid but rejects foreigners to enter disaster-hit areas

YANGON, May 12 (Xinhua) -- The Myanmar government has made it clear that it accepts international aid from any country but rejects foreigners to enter disaster-hit areas, according to the state-run Myanmar Television Monday.

Meeting with resident representatives of the United Nations agencies, foreign social organizations and international non-governmental organizations on Sunday in Yangon, Myanmar Minister of National Planning and Economic Development U Soe Tha said that aid from any nation is accepted and delivery of relief goods can be handled with enough strength by local organizations so do by Myanmar citizens working in international organizations in cooperation with the government departments concerned but not in individual.

He made it clear that foreigners are prohibited to enter the disaster-hit areas.

Myanmar has said the best way to help Myanmar is to send in material rather than personnel, clarifying that the country is notyet ready to receive search and rescue teams as well as media personnel.

Relief work is underway in the disaster-torn regions.

On May 2 and 3, a deadly tropical cyclone Nargis, which occurred over the Bay of Bengal, severely hit five divisions and states -- Yangon, Bago, Ayeyawaddy, Kayin and Mon, covering such coastal towns in southwestern Ayeyawaddy division as Haing Gyi Island, Pathein, Myaungmya, Laputta, Mawlamyinegyun, Kyaiklat, Phyarpon and Bogalay, and the biggest city of Yangon and sustaining the heaviest ever casualties and infrastructural damage.

According to an official updated death toll on Sunday, a total of 28,485 people have lost their lives in the cyclone storm with altogether 33,416 people remained missing.

Editor: An Lu

NLD calls for urgent international intervention

May 11, 2008 (DVB)—The National League for Democracy has appealed to the international community to use all means available to help Burma immediately, without waiting for permission from the military regime.

In a statement read by NLD spokesperson U Thein Nyunt yesterday, the party condemned the Burmese government for obstructing the delivery of international aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis.

“The State Peace and Development Council is responsible for safeguarding as well as ensuring the longevity of the lives of the citizens of this country,” the statement said.

“Presently, the authorities are hampering and obstructing the delivery of assistance from the international community, including the United Nations. As a result, the number of deaths is growing with each passing day,” it went on.

“We, therefore, hold the SPDC responsible for the increasing number of deaths as well as for the diminishing security of lives and property in the country.”

The NLD called on the UN to take on its responsibility to protect civilians and come to the Burmese people’s aid.

“[W]e, the National League for Democracy, which is mandated by the people, once again appeal to the international community, including the United Nations, to make use of all available means immediately to send experts and humanitarian assistance and start undertaking relief and rescue missions in Burma.”

When asked by DVB if the statement was meant to be NLD's green light for humanitarian intervention in Burma, Thein Nyunt reiterated the need of the Burmese people.

“Well, people are dying and starving in the coastal areas. In urban areas, many homes are without roofs and others have collapsed, and people are living on the streets because their lives have been destroyed,” Thein Nyunt said.

“About 100,000 people were killed by the cyclone and over a million are left homeless in the coastal areas. Furthermore, secondary-effect diseases like cholera and others are about to happen.”

Thein Nyunt said the people of Burma urgently needed whatever assistance the international community could offer.

“We need to help the people and urgently need assistance from all international sources, including the United Nations and the United States Government,” he said.

“It is not only cash and kind but also expertise that is vitally needed and all forms of assistance that is given to Burma must be accepted.”

Reporting by DVB

Referendum: Voices of a Nation in Distress


Three Pagodas Pass resident, Mon State, Souteast Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…The place is crawling with fire brigade members and soldiers. They are guarding the entry and exit points of the town as they are quite worried. They didn’t let cars in. Only for today, it will be over by 5 o’clock.

“…I have cast mine…we are NO. We have many crosses. We have rallied all our friends and acquaintance, most of them voted NO…there is no intimidation here...they came to give us the polling cards to our houses yesterday by looking at our lists of family members…but they didn’t give us the cards. So me and my wife went to the polling station today with our identity cards. They asked us, have you got your cards, and when we said we didn’t, go that way to vote, they told us. There are two polling stations in each ward. We gave them our identity card numbers, names of our parents, and they told us to sign. And they gave us a folded paper, one side is blue and the other side is blank white… Then, we went into the room to do whatever we prefer. In that paper, there are no names of ours or our parents, nor our identity card numbers. After ticking, we got out of the room and put the voting slips into the ballot box…

“…they are only guarding the polling stations. There was no rallying of people and the like. No telling (pressurising) people…the majority cast NO votes. We told our people that it is not about electing people. If you like the referendum tick YES. If you don’t like it give a cross for NO. We told people like that. ****

NLD chairman, Madaya, Mandalay Division

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…the situation is quite bad if I have to describe it to you roughly…in some areas they announced on the loudspeaker that if you put a cross to vote NO, you will be given 3-years prison sentence and fined 100,000 kyat in accordance with the law…they are also chasing people who inform the outside world like this…when casting the ballots, the guards and officials manning the polling stations follow voters into the voting booths, they themselves tick (YES) for the voters and the like…when someone voted NO with a cross, they were forced to correct it…at some place they take video and photographs while you are ticking the ballot papers…many people are feeling outraged and angry…sometimes they procured votes seven days in advance from old people…just write in front of us, they told them, and some people didn’t even see the voting slips. In some areas, they not only forced the adults, but also other family members…

“…this referendum is completely unfair and unclean…many people are feeling outraged, and they come and report it to us…I saw in the rule book that one person must not cast more than one vote, but what we are seeing is…one person can vote on behalf of the whole house… so it cannot be a fair referendum.”


Chauk resident, Magwe Division, Upper Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…People are still voting. At every polling station, they are blaring out songs supporting the referendum. The policemen in uniform are at the nearest point of the polling stations. USDA, Swan Arr Shin members (pro-junta thugs), with communication machines on their waists and other who are not supposed to be on duty are inside the polling station. Some clerks, while producing ballot papers told voters to tick here and so on. At No.6, the system there is communal voting in a hall instead of secret ballot. At PE petrol factory, they lined up workers at 6 a.m. and their family members and their manager told them to vote YES and drove them (to the polling station) on petrol office cars. I want to say it straight that there is no freedom in vote casting. We feel that we are being intimidated because security forces were positioned around the polling stations. USDA and Swan Arr Shin members were also presents. And the clerks also told voters to tick YES in the box.

“…Zeegyopin village, all the ballot papers were ticked YES and voters were told to just cast them inside the ballot box. You are not allowed to do anything…

“At Neegyike? Village, because of its proximity to H2O factory, villagers were told to cast YES votes. There are many things like that.

“I didn’t see them following the rules and regulations of the commission because the clerks told people where to tick…they also issued the rules that no loudspeakers should be used around the polling stations but they themselves are blaring out YES campaign songs at every station and they are still doing so.”


Voices from Meikhtila, Upper Burma

10 May, 2008 (DVB)–“…We voted NO. We just don’t like them…” - A local woman.

“…Yes, I went to vote early this morning, about 6.30 … As expected, a cross [NO] … there are many reasons we can’t support them. The worst is their torture and persecution of the public in September and currently, they are not helping but hindering the assistance to the people. We are seeing this on the [satellite] dishes…

“…When I voted, they treated me well but it is very different in other places… They forced people to tick YES … The hole for the ballot box is quite big; 1”x5”. A child could put his hand into it. It is made of soft cardboard. On TV, they showed wooden ballot boxes but in fact, it is a cardboard box…they are soft ones, not hard…It is easy [to tamper with the boxes]. You can even put your hand in it, I think…” - A local man.

“…The assistance people who were wearing security badges followed the voters into the room and told them how to vote if they didn’t understand, and forced them to tick YES … Yes, they are forcing people to tick YES. I was watching them … they knew that I was watching them as they were only ten feet away from me … There were six ‘wish expressing’ rooms. They accompanied voters into the rooms and sometimes they told them how to vote. Tick this box, they told them…

“This is not my assumption. I saw it with my own eyes … in our ward, they employed male and female Red Cross members. The female accompanied female voters and the male accompanied male voters and told tem where to tick…

“It can’t be free and fair as I saw some people cast three votes, five votes, some gave nine votes on their own … it happened in every ward. Some people are not interested. Some don’t understand … Last night, they woke people up in the middle of the night and told them to cast their votes…We went to the house of our local ward authority chairman to collect my ballot papers … and I found ballot papers were there with open envelopes … someone there came out and told me that he was ticking YES on the papers … His name [the chairman] is U Hla Than…” - A local man.


Nam Kham resident, Shan State, East Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB)–“…one person could vote for other family members … They also told us to vote YES. If we didn't, they would interrogate us and deal with us later, they said … people are afraid and voted YES. No one could vote NO … people who were guarding the polling stations, township authorities, clerks, police sergeants, militia, fire brigade members [told us to vote YES]…

“…Some people didn’t know what to do and were told to vote YES, and if they refused their votes were declared void … And those who didn’t know how to write or sign their names, were told to use their fingerprints…

“…yes, [the guards] themselves ticked YES votes for people … who could not come to vote to save time … some people were not allowed to vote either … and they were told that someone else had voted on their behalf…

“…the poll doesn’t represent the desire of the people because … it would be right only if people were allowed to choose either YES or NO … some people think that whether you vote YES or NO, they will make it YES anyway and some people were afraid and didn’t vote…

“…Yes, the resentment among the people will get worse because they are feeling outraged, and there is a possibility of an explosion [of anger] … in a village of 500 voters, there are only five NO votes … because they are afraid … Some Chinese nationals holding Burmese identity cards …the village chief voted YES for them because the officials could not wait for them…


Myingyan resident, Upper Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB)–“…when I went to the polling station, someone said to me ‘let me show you how to vote’. He ticked the right ['Yes'] box for me and told me to put it into any ballot box…

“…some people don’t know about it and some do … those who are likely to cause problems, they let them vote on their own. Those who won’t or those they are not afraid of they will boss them around and force them…

“…there are more people who were forced to vote without understanding anything … at the moment, there are more 'Yes' votes. But they are not really 'Yes' votes. People were forced to do it without knowing anything … when I asked people what they had done, they said, ‘We don’t know, they told us to tick here and put it into any ballot box you like’. They were told to put the ready-ticked 'Yes' vote papers into any of the ballot box they liked. But they knew why they did it. Voters don’t know what to accept and what to protest against.

“…the situation in the town is the same everywhere. The difference is whether there are problems in the polling stations or not…I can’t speak for other people, but as for me, I will vote 'No'. Everyone wants to vote 'No', but they don’t know what they are voting for. If people knew what they were voting for, they would vote 'No'. There are many people who don’t understand it. Those who don’t understand anything are voting 'Yes'. They are deliberately making it confusing for people. They told people to tick 'Yes' and people just did it. They placed three or four ballot boxes and they made people think the choice of ballot boxes is the choice for YES or NO…

“…why do I want to vote NO?...It is because it is unjust. That is clear. None of them is just and I don't like any of them … who would tolerate them? No one want to put up with them…

“…quite a lot of people have voted ... but they are still telling people to vote on the loudspeaker … of course, there is [intimidations] … they are telling people that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the like are being given money by foreign [countries], to invade and occupy Burma. 'You must oppose Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Support us, or you will be in trouble.' They told people that and forced them to sign … The following day [polling day], they told people not to come and vote … many people were forced to give YES votes in that way … three quarters of the votes were procured like that. The remaining quarter was procured by underhanded means too at the polling stations … I have nothing else to say, there is only injustice and deception here…”


General situation (11am)

May 10, 2008 (DVB)–“…In Karen State [southeast Burma], they blared out the song ‘Let’s go to the polling stations and vote’ constantly until 10.30am. But there were very few voters … the villagers were too afraid to ask for ballpoint pens and only put blank, white papers [into the ballot boxes]…

“…In Kyonpyaw, it was officially declared on the loudspeakers that those who vote NO will be given a three-year prison sentence and fined 100,000 [kyat]. We heard from the elected representative Dr Kyi Min Htut … In Pantanaw, Irrawaddy Division, although it was not announced officially through loudspeakers, similar words were heard…”

“…In Pyay [Prome], voters are under various kinds of pressure to vote 'Yes' and people are allowed to vote for other people, and they have also accepted advance votes. Dr Khin Maung Win from Pyay phoned us…”


Pa-an resident, Karen State capital, East Burma (12.30pm)

May 10, 2008 (DVB)–“…The polling stations opened at 6 o’clock in the morning. People went there but there were not many people queuing at the polling station. Two or three people went there at a time … There was no proper guard at the polling stations. They used the local ward and the school as polling stations … the teachers issued ballot papers. Curtains were used for polling booths and they put the ballot boxes in there.

“…I don’t know about that [whether people were intimidated or pressured] yet. But at some polling stations, at No. 2 Polling Station, I heard that they followed right behind the voters…

“…They blared out songs urging people to vote from some cars that looked like Thingyan floats, manned by people wearing [Union Solidarity and Development Association] badges and drove around the town, preceded by 6-7 motorcycles. USDA members wore white T-shirts with pictures that tell people to vote 'Yes' and go to the polling station…”


Kyaukpadaung resident, Upper Burma (9am)

May 10, 2008 (DVB)–“…In the morning, [pro-junta activists] distributed their campaign shirts very early and rallied people. And [Ma-Wa-Ta] township authority chairmen went around in their cars. They forced people who know nothing to wear the shirts … shirts that say to vote YES and to go to the polling booths … But most people were living in fear. When people saw the voting slips, they found out that there were no markings. There are many mistakes at the moment. This is the situation in town. I don’t know about the situation in the villages yet…

“…Some people are going about their own businesses. Some people went to vote. At Let-pan-pin Village, they told people, just give us your signature. Don't do anything else. They told people just to sign. They didn’t give people voting slips, just forced them to sign and tick the right one [to vote 'Yes']….

“…That was what happened in Letpanpin village today. In Poppa village yesterday they summoned people and told people to sign or vote. 'You all have voted yes. Now go home,' [they told people]. They only allowed the heads of the family to sign, and ticked YES for all other family members over 18 … Some people protested that there was no voting slip and they were told that they had nothing else to do … without voting on the voting slips, they had voted YES … This is what really happened in Letpanpin and Poppa villages.

“…The polling stations had been open since last night … only the heads of families had to go and vote 'Yes' for the whole family … One girl protested and went to the polling station and demanded they let her vote for herself. But she was told that her father had voted on her behalf…”


Mandalay resident, Upper Burma (8.30am)

May 10, 2008 (DVB)-"The situation is normal here. No one is interested in it. I haven't heard anything said about it in teashops. I did hear that the [pro-junta] social affairs members and [Union Solidarity and Development Association] went to the polling stations in their uniforms this morning to cast their votes … between 77th and 35th streets, near Yadanabon Market, … people are acting normally. I haven’t heard people talking about it or showing any interest in it. It is very different from the 97 situation… It must be too early. They are just starting to go to work and the like…"


Kyaukpadaung and Poppa residents, Mandalay Division, Upper Burma (3.45PM)

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…They procured a lot of advance votes yesterday. As it is advance votes, no one wants to be blamed and many voted YES…When they opened the polling stations this morning, they just took as much as they could and they said to people you can vote whatever you like to appear to be honest….

“…At Poppa, the voting ended at 10 in the morning. They have been procuring advance votes for the previous seven days…with the people they trust, they let them vote in a room in accordance with rules and regulations, with their voting slips inside the envelopes. But those they don’t forced them to vote in front of them. And those who are afraid of them were forced to vote in front of them…people are afraid and most of them voted YES…From the depth of their hearts, people want to vote NO, I can say it daringly. The reason is the intimidation is quite widespread…some people were ignorant and voted YES and some didn’t vote saying what can we get from them by voting for them…”


General situations (1.30PM)

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…In Karen State, Hlaingbwe…a polling station collapsed and eight people were hospitalised. It was not due to overcrowding but the shoddiness of the building. They are now in Pa-an hospital…

“…At Mohnyin and Mokaung (in northern Burma), the situation is good; among the advance votes, only 30% voted YES…many people voted…it was researched by Mohnyin, Mokaung, Myikyina NLD members…


Pyay/Prome resident, Lower Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…Let me tell you what happened during the days before the referendum…They came to people’s house to procure advance votes and local authorities forced people to sign…Then they told people, you have voted, you don’t need to go to the polling station…

“…Those who didn’t look quite clever were told, do like this and that, auntie, and made them vote YES…It is not true that it will be a free and fair election (referendum), as they claimed…minister Kyaw Hsan said that it will be free and fair. Commission member U Thaung Nyunt said that it will be an international standard referendum…

“…As they ranted before, they have to win even if they lose, it is like that…

“…Some schoolteachers were wearing USDA uniforms and carrying out duties. That is not good…They are doing that because of the order from the top and they themselves are members of USDA…

“…While the media and the like were busy with Nargis Cyclone, they did these pressurising and abusing of power while Nargis was blowing…During that time, they forced the whole villages, suburbs and downtowns (to vote YES)…


Kawa resident, Bago/Pegu Division, Lower Burma (4.30PM)

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…At every polling station, polling station commissions, USDA, local authorities and those responsible all told voters to vote YES. Most people are afraid and cast YES votes…all the voting slips inside the polling booths and in front of the supervisors were marked on YES. When people complained, the commission told people to tell anyone they like…We are reporting the actions of the commissions of the villages to the township commission…we will proceed gradually after thinking carefully…There are likely to be more injustice…the way they (the authorities) are doing, it is likely that they are going to be successful. The public is duped…”


Pakokku resident, Magwe Division, Upper Burma (3PM)

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…There are 14 polling stations for 13 villages of Myitche District, Pakokku Township. The chairman of Tawchauk Village is Thein Htike. He told voters to cast their ballots the previous night. And he ticked all the ballots, YES, himself and closed the polling station 7.30 (this morning?).

“The chairman of Kyetsha village is Sein Kalar, ditto, he did as mentioned above. Like Tawchauk village chair Thein Htike, he told villagers to vote in advance last night. And they ticked them all YES and closed the polling station at 7.30.

“Ainche and Myoma, followed the rules and regulations…

“At Kaba Aye and Htanaungkone, the village chair told voters to cast votes in front of him.

“Setkyay village chairman Aung Kyaw Min threatened power cuts for weddings and funerals to those who vote NO.

“Ywatha Aye’s chair Nyunt Win, and what we learnt from other chairs is, USDA and township chairs are told that they will be given a GSM (mobile) phone, if there is NO vote in their polling stations. Ywatha Aye’s chairman Nyunt Win said that…

“There are 300 villages in Natmauk (Township). They also procured advance votes which are all YES votes. At Padauk Nguwa village, there were 15 NO votes and USDA members reported township chairman and he is not getting GSM and facing big problem.

“At Pakokku (Township) Kanma village, there are only two polling stations that procured advance votes. There, all the votes 100 percent are YES votes.

“At Yenangyaung (township), rules and regulations were followed where there are NLD members, but where there is no NLD member, advance votes were procured. And they told voters, if you want to cast YES votes give us here, but if you want to cast NO vote, go to the polling station. They manned the polling stations with police armed with guns and handcuffs…That’s it.”


Pegu resident, Lower Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…As you know, from our heart, we voted NO…because there are reasons we can’t accept…at the polling station, there are local authorities, USDA members, and some people from the ward but I don’t know most of them…not many people went there. Some people voted for the whole family…here, there is not much of it (intimidation). As they said, people are allowed to vote freely…

“…At Utta ward, three NLD members went to see it, I was told. Yesterday, U San Maung Maung and the like were arrested, Dr. San Maung Maung. I heard that three people (got arrested)…I thinks it is in connection with the poll. It is like they are being detained for awhile, like when they did before…”


Meiktila female resident, Mandalay Division, Upper Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…We cast crosses (NO votes). Most friends cast NO votes. Those who are illiterate and ignorant cast YES vote. They gave YES because they are ignorant and afraid. They told them that if they cast crosses, they will get three years, two years imprisonment and the like…they keep on threatening like that…

“…if you tell them (the authorities) that you are going to cast a NO vote, it is like giving yourself a dead sentence…Because of this Nargis Cyclone people are being impoverished, hungry and in trouble. Where are the authorities? Where are the USDA (members)? When they were beating the monks, the USDA were there. Now, people are in trouble. The international community is saying that it will help, but they won’t accept it. They themselves can’t help. When U Than Shwe daughter got married, she received $50m for her wedding? Can’t she help? Where has she gone? It has been a long time sine people want to express their feelings…where are the Sangha Nayaka (head monks) worshipped by U Than Shwe, where are they? The monks must help people. They have to go where people are in trouble. They must offer words of comfort and help people. Where are all the ‘leaders’? We want this kind of thing…

“…they are afraid that people will know about their callousness and don’t let people in. They should not do that (not hold referendum). Whatever it is, they should help people who are in trouble…”


Meikhtila resident, Mandalay Division, Upper Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…I didn’t cast YES vote…Yes, I voted NO…Most of my friends voted NO…To say the truth, there is not much of it (freedom) today…There is noting particularly for me to say as to why I did so as you know it already. My friends voted NO in three, five…while there is a disaster they should stop it the referendum…to say the truth about the referendum, I am not feeling satisfied…”


Nyaunglaybin resident, Pegu Division, Lower Burma

May 10, 2008 (DVB) – “…As for lying/deception, they are doing it a lot…in order to vote, they give you a token with your name, your father’s name and a serial number. And when you go to the polling station, they give you the polling card when you show them the serial number after looking at the list. When you get the polling card, you have to sign stating that you received it. When my wife and I went there, I found out that the space for signatures for both of us had been signed by someone else. I told them that they were not our signatures, why did you do that, I asked, and they said, it was our mistake…in fact, it seemed that they had already signed on our behalves and put our votes for YES…

“…another way is as people have to go to work…while they were queuing…they (the authorities) would ask people to leave their tokens with them and deceive them. These people didn’t even have the chance to see the voting slips or vote…some people were not allowed to vote…at some villages, people from women affairs (pro-junta) and the like sat waiting inside the polling booths and told voters to tick here…they are doing things like this in Nyaunglaybin Township. Similarly, in nearby Shwekyin Township…they took people’s tokens and the local authorities cast YES votes for them. As far as I know, they are doing the same things, in villages of the surrounding townships…

“…A lot of people go to polling stations. They were not interested before. Nargis Cyclone occurred. They (authorities) didn’t behave like human beings. They are only doing it for the survival of their power. They went to the poll to protest…what I heard is they (the authorities) are not going to declare the results of the poll in local areas…the ballot boxes are to be sent to the townships…


Cyclone victim says aid given only to junta supporters

May 11, 2008 (DVB)—A cyclone victim in Hlaing Tharyar, Rangoon, has said people in the township are not receiving any assistance and are being driven out of public buildings by local authorities.

In an interview with DVB on Friday, the woman said there were many cyclone victims in the township, perhaps more than 10,000, but they had been forced out of buildings where they had taken shelter by local officials and members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

DVB: We understand the cyclone victims were asked to move out of a building. Can you tell me where that was?

“From state high school No. 3. None of the cyclone victims received anything when rice and oil were given out. The USDA and the local authorities were handing out rice and oil, so we went there but we were not given anything. They only distributed the goods to their own people. None of the starving victims received anything. There are many people in serious trouble with many of them staying in monasteries. We are staying in a hall.”

DVB: When were the authorities distributing rice and oil?

“They have been distributing the food for the past three days.”

DVB: What about today?

“No, not today. The people who are really starving did not receive anything. The food was distributed to people in their own organisations. Only about 50 of the victims received the food distributed”.

DVB: You said only 50 of the victims received the food. How many people do you believe need it?

“Over 10,000.”

DVB: The 10,000 people you speak of, did they lose their homes in the cyclone?

“Yes, they lost everything. Some died, some lost the roofs of their homes, and some were left without shelter and are starving. Some couples have many children.”

DVB: Which ward are you from?

“Ward No. 14.”

DVB: I see, but the victims must be from different wards?

“Yes. People from all wards came to the food distribution area.”

DVB: Why did they force you away from state high school No. 3?

“They said we were not allowed to stay there any longer. The person who ordered out was U Mya Win of the USDA. We were evicted yesterday and had to go without meals in the morning. Food is only given to their people and we, who are starving, did not get anything, neither oil nor rice. We are all homeless and I have to rent a place.

“I am a cyclone victim but I have not even received a grain of rice. They said they were distributing food at 1500 hours, so I went there and they told me the distribution was in the morning. They – the USDA Office - asked me to come early the next morning and I did and they told me the distribution would only be in the evening.”

DVB: So, you want to appeal to the USDA and the local authorities to be fair in distributing food aid. The international agencies are also concerned about the assistance reaching the people. The aid, it appears, is not reaching you. So, what would you like to tell the international community about it?

“I want to tell them that food aid is not reaching us, we are in trouble because of our food, clothing and shelter difficulties, and we have nowhere to stay. We want them to help us. The other day, my niece fainted after they closed the iron gates on the people queuing for food aid and she was caught in between. We are really in trouble and that is what we want the international community to know. We want the food aid to be sent directly to the people because we do not get anything if it comes through them.”

Reporting by Maung Too

Resident reports heavy death toll in island villages

May 11, 2008 (DVB)—Villages on Hainggyi and Pyin Khaing islands suffered a high death toll when Cyclone Nargis struck Irrawaddy division on 2 and 3 May, a local resident said on Friday.

A resident of Pyin Khaing spoke to DVB about the situation on the islands.

“I understand the situation is bad, very bad, with many people being killed. A lot of others also died in Labutta. In Sabo, a village with about 1,000 inhabitants near Pyin Khaing, almost 800 people were killed. There were also hired workers in the village because of the saltworks there. The people there are all homeless now.

“On Pyin Khaing island, the whole of Bonmathitkan village was swamped by the sea and the villagers have now moved on to the island. People from Sabo are also there and shops on Pyin Khaing island are not open because of the starving people there. I was told that if one were to open a teashop it would have been mobbed and all its supplies taken in a minute.

“The people are cyclone victims. I was informed that they were fed rice in the morning and rice porridge in the evening because supplies were running out. After about four days, cyclone victims were searching for coconuts and mangos to eat.

“Hainggyi can be seen from Pyin Khaing Island. It takes about two to three hours by boat. There is a naval base at Hainggyi and about 2,000 to 3,000 homes. I have not seen it but people say corpses are scattered everywhere in the bushes and there is a strong stench. Although I have not seen it, I have heard that boats have to manoeuvre around the reeking corpses. There is also a report of a cholera outbreak.

“The whole Kyaikkataung village has disappeared and many people were killed. I was told that only three people were left in one village, but I don’t know the name of that village. There are many small villages. Our Pyin Khaing has never been flooded before but I am told that the water is now waist high.”

DVB: Has humanitarian assistance started to arrive?

“I don’t think it has started in Pyin Khaing because they are doing it in Hainggyi first. It may be because Pyin Khaing is remote and people do not know about it. The assistance may perhaps begin in Pyin Khaing in the next few days. I was, however, informed by a young woman that they had been distributed two noodle packages to each person. In Settaik, they gave a can of rice to each person.

“I was told that more than 4,000 people died in Kyaikkataung village. From Pyin Khaing, we can reach Kyaikkataung in a motorboat in about two hours. I was also informed about the high death toll in Seton.”

Reporting by Aye Nai

Delay in results gives junta freedom to 'rig' vote, critics say

Mungpi - Mizzima

New Delhi - Burma on Saturday concluded what its military rulers called "successful referendum polling" with "massive turnout" of voters, but the results remained undisclosed.

While polling commissioners tallied votes in a few ballot stations, most of the votes have been packed into bags and sent to township commissions.

Local residents in Myingyan town of Mandalay division in central Burma said local polling officials counted votes after the polls were closed, but did not announce results.

According to Mizzima's random calls to voters in different parts of the country, many commissioners did not count votes, instead sending the ballots to township election officials.

Burma's referendum law, announced in February, fails to include a specific timeline for announcing the results of the poll. It does, however, provide details on voting procedures for different groups of people, such as the public, the military, civil servants, medical professionals, overseas Burmese and inmates.

The junta's referendum law vaguely states that after adding poll results from various states and divisions, the Referendum Commissioner will announce the overall results of the polling.

"This gives the flexibility to the junta to rig the votes according to the way they want," said Win Min, a Burmese analyst based in Thailand.

Win Min said the election law states that commissioners and station officers will conduct vote counting after the polls are closed in the presence of at least 10 civilian observers.

"They are violating their own rules," Win Min added.

With polling postponed for 47 townships in cyclone-hit regions of Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions, the counting and declaration of results is likely to be later than May 24, Win Min said.

"But we never know – if the junta thinks they are comfortable with the results so far, they might just announce them anytime, even without waiting for the polling in the cyclone-hit regions," he said.

Criticism swirled against the military junta for going ahead with the referendum on Saturday amidst concern for more than 1.5 million cyclone victims.

Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, said Burma's generals are focusing only on the referendum and are busy building polling booths instead of building shelters for cyclone victims.

"It's crazy," he said.

Farmaner added that he wouldn't be surprised if the junta announces that the polling results are in favor of the constitution, which took the generals 14 years to draft.

"I will not be surprised at all," he said. "We are expecting a 'yes' vote because the regime is doing everything they can to rig it."

A smattering of poll results trickles in

Nem Davies - Mizzima

Voters in some parts of central and northern Burma approved the draft constitution by a margin of two-to-one, while voters in portions of Shan state rejected the charter, according to informal results.

The results, obtained Sunday, are only a small fraction of the overall vote. Final results from the referendum are not expected to be announced until at least two more weeks.

'Yes' votes outnumbered 'no' votes by two-to-one in seven constituencies in Myingyan Township, Mandalay Division, in central Burma. Ballots in favor of the draft constitution numbered 8,866, (67 percent), while those opposed totaled 4,231 (32 percent). Sixty-eight ballots were ruled invalid.

But some residents cried foul at the results.

"The station commissioner did not close the ballot box and checked all the papers as soon as the voters put their votes in the box," said a local resident who did not want to be named. He ruled invalid about 30 votes that were against the draft constitution.

A member of an informal group that was closely monitoring the polls said, "The result should be 50/50 because we could not get a chance to know the total votes in some places. Some commissioners did not count the votes and took them away from the booths as soon as the voters dropped their ballots."

He said they would release video recordings of the cheating.

In four townships of Kachin State and one area under control of the Kachin Independence Organisation, similar results were reported. Sixty-two percent of votes cast in the five regions were in favor of the draft constitution, while 36 percent were against, according to results obtained by the Kachin News Group.

In two townships in northern Shan state, voters rejected the draft constitution.

In Muse and Hnam Kham townships, 67 percent voted against the charter, while 29 percent were in favor. A very small number of voters, 4.5 percent, or 721 votes, were declared invalid, according to a local resident who monitored the vote counting.

Meanwhile, the vote was much closer in Yenanchaung Township, Magwe Division, where 53 percent of voters said 'yes,' while 44 percent said 'no.'

In Kachin State, nearly 100,000 voters' names were deleted from the eligible voter lists in Myitkyina Township before the referendum, according to the Kachin News Group.

"Hundreds of eligible voters from Sadung, Waingmaw Township, were told to go back without voting when they reached to the ballot station," one of the poll watchers told Mizzima.

In Meikhtila Township, Mandalay division, two-thirds of cast ballots in favor of the constitution, said local residents.

Refugee camps guarded like 'prisons'

Mizzima's correspondent returned from Pathein, the capital of Irrawaddy Division, one week after Cyclone Nargis hit the Delta. As a foreigner, he was denied access to areas which were hit hardest by the cyclone. But he saw hundreds of cyclone victims, including many orphans, and listened to their stories.

The Burma Army and local authorities keep survivors in evacuation camps that are guarded and managed like prisons.

In Myaungmya, close to the totally destroyed township of Laputta, the government has converted the six government high schools into shelters, each housing about 600 survivors. No one is allowed to enter these schools and no survivor is allowed to leave, not even for the search of missing family members.

Only those who can prove a legitimate interest in seeing one of the "inmates" are allow to check the list of inhabitants. Then the survivor, who must wear a number at all times, will be allowed to speak to the visitor in a separate area.

The survivor is not allowed out. He or she has to return to the overcrowded quarters. Donations cannot be made directly to victims but must be handed to the camp authority.

Surrounding villages are forced to support the survivors through "voluntary" donations: water, rice, salt, clothing, blankets, etc.

On the way to Laputta, private donors and NGO are forced by soldiers to hand over half of the rice bags or other goods meant for survivors. No wonder the generals do not want foreigners in the disaster zone.

Christian churches and Buddhist monks are discouraged by the authorities to help survivors and provide shelter. Some Christian churches have privately organized boats to go to the destroyed and flooded villages in the remote south of the Delta.

The government tells the rescue teams that survivors "are violent and getting mad."

On the way from Rangoon to the Delta, covering 120 miles, only one Army "convoy" could be seen. It consisted of three half-loaded trucks and one tanker with gasoline. Some 10 private trucks with "forced" donations headed for Laputta.

In Rangoon, local authorities publish daily sheets with the names of the destroyed and flooded villages and the number of casualties and survivors. Everybody reading these lists is filled with horror. The authorities only list the villages with predominantly Burman population. The Catholic, Baptist, Muslim and Karen villages are not mentioned and therefore are not entitled to help and assistance from the State.

The Smell of Death and Destruction

(The correspondent has returned from Kungyangone Township after interviewing several survivors of Cyclone Nargis.)

The Irrawaddy News

Thirty-five miles from Rangoon, the air smells of death. Dead bodies and the rotting cadavers of buffaloes lie in the gutters of this town, so near Burma’s largest city and the country’s once proud capital.

Overhead, a cruel sun beats down on the homeless who seek shelter amid the ruins of their houses.

Pu Suu, 14, cowers under a tattered umbrella, as she cooks a pot of rice to feed the other five survivors of her family. A younger sister lies sick and crying in her mother’s arms.

“This might be our last pot of rice,” says Pu Suu with resignation.

Four thousand of Kungyangone’s residents are thought to have died when the cyclone hit one week ago.

The survivors have been assured by the authorities that the town has enough supplies to feed all. One member of the town’s Union Solidarity and Development Association
said the organization is delivering enough rice to the storm victims, pointing at the sacks of rice in his house. Building materials were being handed out to people to rebuild their demolished homes, he said.

Yet his neighbor Ko Tin, 40, whose house was swept away by the storm, said he and the five members of his family had received only four cans of rice a day. Burma people use an empty condensed milk can as a measurement, and one person normally requires more than one and a half of cans of rice per day. They had not received any building materials, he said.

A woman in her fifties said her household of 18 people was also receiving just four cans of rice a day. Her children and grandchildren lay hungry on the floor around her. “I tell them to go in search of food and wood and fetch it by hook or by crook.”

Some residents say donors of aid are forced to leave the supplies and cash with the security forces stationed in the center of the small town.

“This deters the flow of donations from outside [the town],” said a 35-year-old teacher. “People don’t believe their honesty, because people know they [the security forces] will try to win the hearts of the people with the food the donors give.”

Members of the security forces patrol the streets, but none seems interested in the plight of the homeless.

Tun Than, 44, supervises the care of more than 800 homeless in a local monastery. He points to three policemen walking through the monastery compound and says: “We don’t need the police. There are no more homes to protect. We just need rice.”

Massive Cheating Reported from Referendum Polling Stations

The Irrawaddy News

Burma's constitutional referendum went ahead as planned on Saturday in areas not affected by Cyclone Nargis, amid accusations of massive cheating at the polling stations and reports of a very low turnout.

Many voters in several Rangoon townships, Mandalay, Pegu, Sagaing and Magwe divisions told The Irrawaddy that referendum officials had handed out ballot papers already filled in with a tick, indicating approval of the government’s draft constitution.

They also complained that the referendum was not free and fair, saying they cast their votes watched by officials, including members of the government-backed mass organization Union Solidarity and Development Association and militias such as Swan-Ar-Shin. Officials of the organizations sat close to the ballot boxes and advised people how to vote.

Voter turn-out was reported to be very light, despite fevered attempts by the regime to persuade people to participate. State TV broke into programming throughout the day with a video showing a group of smiling young women singing a ditty in support of a “Yes” vote. "Let's go vote .... with sincere thoughts for happy days," they sang.

About 27 million of Burma’s 57 million population are entitled to vote.

Nyan Win, spokesman of the opposition National League for Democracy told The Irrawaddy that most polling stations closed at about 11 a.m. Officials then went to the homes of people who had not voted and made them fill in registration forms indicating they had handed in ballots that had already been filled in with a tick.

Rangoon-based Burmese journalists said security at polling stations was very strict. No foreign news agency correspondents or independent journalists were allowed near.

The cheating and intimidation observed on Saturday confirmed claims by human rights activists and western governments that the referendum would be a sham and neither free nor fair.

The regime had used both intimidation and vote-buying to assure itself of a “Yes” vote and would predictably resort to vote-rigging if it lost, observers said. Widespread rumors say the results have already been fixed to deliver an 84.6 percent vote in favor of the charter, an AP report said.

The government has also been widely criticized for pressing on with the referendum while the country is still reeling from the catastrophic effects of Cyclone Nargis.

"Instead of putting all resources toward saving the lives of the victims, the military is concentrating on legalizing military rule in Burma forever through a sham constitutional referendum," said a joint statement from the All Burma Monks Alliance, the 88 Generation Students and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions.

Red Cross Boat for Burma Cyclone Victims Sinks

The Irrawaddy News

The first cargo ship carrying relief supplies for cyclone victims in Burma has sunk, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) said Sunday.

The ship, which was traveling from the former capital, Rangoon, to Mawlamyinegyun in the Irrawaddy Delta, apparently hit a submerged tree trunk and began to take on water, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement. It sank near Myinka Gone village.

"This is a great loss for the Myanmar [Burma] Red Cross and for the people who need aid so urgently", said Aung Kyaw Htut, who leads the Myanmar Red Cross distribution team.

"This would have been our very first river shipment and it will delay aid for a further day."

The crew members, including four Myanmar Red Cross aid workers, managed to get to safety, the organization said.

The cargo was carrying aid for up to 1,000 people. It included 100 bags of rice, 5,000 liters of drinking water, 10,000 water purification tablets, 200 jerry cans and 30 boxes of clothes. Also on the boat were household items for 30 families, 1,000 bars of soap, 800 pairs of rubber gloves and 1,000 surgical masks.

Locals and aid workers managed to save some of the relief supplies and started to carry them to the nearest town for onward shipment, the IFRC said.

The organization said it was unable to say how much of the cargo had been lost, but rescued food supplies would now be contaminated with river water, it said.

The IFRC's disaster manager in Rangoon, Michael Annear, said the sinking was "a big blow."

"Apart from the delay in getting aid to people we may now have to re-evaluate how we transport that aid," he said.

The IFRC, which coordinates the relief work of the Myanmar Red Cross, has said that so far the humanitarian effort has supported 220,000 people.

Misery in Laputta

(AP-The Irrawaddy) Apart from the sound of children crying, the town of Laputta is strangely silent.

Traumatized by the ordeal of surviving Cyclone Nargis, few people have anything to say. But it is also fear bred by 46 years of repression by military regimes that keeps them quiet.

Although overwhelmed by the worst disaster in Burma's recent history, the junta has turned down foreign help and insists on using its ragtag infrastructure and poorly equipped military to conduct a grossly mismanaged relief operation for some 2 million people in distress.

And no one dares to protest. Even aid agencies are cautious.

"There are certainly parameters around whatever we do. It is very sensitive politically, but within those parameters we are getting through," said Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, one of the few foreign aid workers allowed into Rangoon.

Aid workers said critical supplies were reaching Laputta, a town of 20,000 people whose population swelled with 30,000 refugees streaming in from dozens of surrounding villages devastated in the May 3 cyclone.

Laputta is located near the coast of the Irrawaddy delta some 120 kilometers (75 miles) southwest of Rangoon.

But efforts to rush food and medicine from Laputta to lower-lying parts of the delta that were hardest hit have been slowed by the military's intense micromanaging.

"The government wants total control of the situation although they can't provide much and they have no experience in relief efforts," said a leading aid worker for an international aid organization. "We have to report to them every step of the way, every decision we make."

"Their eyes are everywhere, monitoring what we do, who we talk to, what we bring in and how much," the aid worker said in a soft voice, constantly looking around nervously as his assistant turned off all the lights except one dim lamp.

He agreed to the interview at night after being assured he wouldn't be named or identified in any way.

"Sorry, sorry. We don't want them to see you here. They don't trust us, as it is," he told a foreign reporter in Laputta.

The town, about 200 meters (600 feet) inland, is littered with flattened thatch-roofed homes and fallen trees. But it fared better than most neighboring villages, with several structures withstanding the cyclone's 190-kilometer (120-mile) per hour winds and the tidal surge it whipped up.

Schools, large houses and monasteries have become temporary shelters. Hundreds of survivors crowd the floor of a monastery's open-air hall, which is lit by dim kerosene lamps and candles. Only a few houses, mostly those belonging to people connected with officials, have generators.

People quietly eat whatever food is available while others try to sleep. Most people have to sit up because there is no space to lie down.

Few survivors wanted to speak to an outsider, as military trucks drove constantly through the town. Most cowered in corners.

On the outskirts of Laputta, 12 people were crammed into one tent pitched on a rice field. They were the only survivors from the village of Pain Na Kon and had fruitlessly searched Laputta for family members.

"We are family now. We are from the same place. We are together," said U Nyo, one of the survivors, his eyes red from tears and fatigue. "We need food. There isn't enough space in the town so we decided to stay here."

What lies beyond Laputta is the worst of the devastation, an area that remains difficult to access.

Fishing boats along the coast have helped ferry survivors to safety but can't make enough rounds a day to rescue everyone and the trip is a stomach-wrenching journey, said Maung U, the 36-year-old driver of a rescue boat.

"Each trip takes five or six hours through a narrow waterway littered with dead bodies," he said.

"Every few meters, you see another dead body, human or animal."

He said every family has at least two or three persons missing or dead, and many people had to leave the bodies of their family members behind in the water or in the fields.

Diesel supplies are running low and rescuers fear that time is running out to help the people stranded in remote delta villages.

"Some have been living on coconuts," he said. "But even those are running out."

France Backtracking on Intervention

The Irrawaddy News

France appeared to be backing down Sunday on claims it would send a naval vessel carrying 1,500 tonnes of aid to Burma “without waiting any further” on permission from the Burmese authorities, after a French foreign ministry source said France would not send the ship into Burmese waters, according to a Reuters report on Sunday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had on Saturday told reporters that France had decided to go it alone and deliver relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Nargis in the Irrawaddy delta after Burma’s ruling junta failed to respond to calls for international aid and relief teams to be allowed access to survivors.

France had suggested invoking a little-used "responsibility to protect" concept to deliver aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis without Burmese government approval.

“We have decided to act without waiting any further,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters on Saturday. “The aid is to be directly distributed to the affected, either by the ship’s crew or by French aid organizations.”

According to press reports, a French 22,000-ton amphibious naval craft, Mistral, moored in India, had been loaded with 1,500 tons of rice and medical supplies on Saturday and was sailing to the Irrawaddy delta to distribute the supplies, either through the ship’s crew or using non-governmental staff already on the ground.

The French foreign minister also hinted that the Burmese military junta would face a resolution by the UN Security Council condemning its irresponsibility toward the people of Burma during the disaster.

Speaking to clarify Kouchner's comments, the ministry source said France did not intend to send the Mistral into Burma’s territorial waters and start distributing aid without permission from the junta, the report said.

"As long as the Security Council has not authorised countries to intervene directly in Burma, our aid will require explicit or implicit approval from the authorities," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to Thailand’s Bangkok Post, former Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont reportedly would fly to Burma’s new capital, Naypyidaw, on Sunday to convince the junta to accept humanitarian aid for cyclone victims.

Former Prime Minister Surayud is to go to Naypyidaw along with a six-member delegation, including the Royal Thai Air Force’s commander in chief, Chalit Pookpasuk, and Prasong Phithunkijja, secretary-general of Raja Prachanukroh Foundation, a charity under the Thai King’s patronage.

Meanwhile, a number of Burmese celebrities and young people went to disaster areas in the Irrawaddy delta at the weekend to aid victims by themselves, according to a celebrity who participated on Sunday.

“At least 14 celebrities joined the aid action with 30 million kyat (US $26,500) in donations, 5,000 items of clothing, and 4 million kyat ($3,500) worth of medicines and blankets,” said Zarganar, a famous Burmese comedian.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone on Sunday, he said: “Rivers in the delta are full of dead bodies and the smell is horrific. I think many diseases will be breaking out here soon. And still, the victims are without any effective help.”

On Sunday evening, a source in Rangoon who arrived from Laputta on Sunday evening, told The Irrawaddy by telephone that aid agencies, including Médecins Sans Frontières, have been denied permission to distribute medical aid in the region by the military authorities in Laputta.

The source said that about 100,000 people, currently sheltering in various monasteries in Laputta town, are surviving on rice soup, but have yet to receive any aid from international agencies or local authorities.