Tuesday, 20 May 2008


A council is considering pulling investment from businesses with links to Burma because it wants to be "socially responsible".

The county council is writing to the banks administering its £2 billion pension fund to find out how much of its money is sent there.

It is not possible for foreigners to invest directly in Burma, but the council does have cash in companies which operate there.

Legally, councils cannot restrict investment in any area unless they can prove it is at risk.

County Hall, like other councils, gives its pension funds to banks which invest the money on its behalf.

Most foreign investment in Burma is in the gas, oil and hydroelectric sectors, but cash is also pumped into mining companies and timber businesses.

The controversy surrounding the country's human rights situation has led to some companies pulling out for ethical reasons.

Recently business giants such as Ikea, British American Tobacco, Adidas and Texaco have refused to invest there.

If companies continue to pull out, this could put existing investments at risk, and might give the council the legal right to pull out.

The council's head of finance, Brian Roberts, said: "Burma undoubtedly has a regime that operates in a manner that is unacceptable to the vast majority of individuals.

"Although it is not possible for foreigners to invest directly into Burma, the council does have investments in companies which operate there."

The council's pensions board has written to Capital International and Goldman Sachs to find out just how much council money it has invested there and if whether is possible for the authority to pull out without losing money.

Leicester Shire

Two clashes on referendum day

By Hseng Khio Fah
Shanland Agency for News

On 10 May, when the nationwide referendum was held, clashes between Shan State Army (SSA) and Burma Army took place in Shan State, according to rebel sources.

At dawn on referendum day, a unit from the SSA's Brigade # 759 ambushed a 2o strong patrol from Nawnglong based Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) # 513 near Nawngwoe village, Lawksawk township. Many soldiers were killed and injured.

On the same day, at 08:00, SSA fighters attacked soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) # 513 near Phalam village. Some were killed and many were wounded, according to the SSA.

The next day, from 08:00 to 08:10, a clash between SSA Battalion # 363 and Kunhing based Infantry Battalion (IB) # 66 took place again near Kenglom, south of Taunggyi-Keng Tung highway, Kunhing township. Six soldiers were killed including a sergeant Tin Htay Hlaing, Personal No # 1745. Many more were wounded.

Again from 10:00 to 10:55, the SSA attacked a 55 strong patrol from Column #2, IB #66 near Kali, east of Kunhing. A Corporal Aye Kyaw was killed and three soldiers were injured, the SSA said.

In the evening, eastern Deput Regional Commander, Brig-Gen Win Myint and Kunhing Area Commander Colonel Tin Maung Shwe came along with 4 trucks carrying around 50 soldiers to conduct investigations on the clashes.

The SSA also seized 2 MA4-M79 rocket launchers, 1 MA1 automatic rifles, 1 Kenwood transceivers and a number of cartridges.

US Hopes Ban Ki-moon can get Greater Relief Access

The Irrawaddy News

The top US official at the UN says the success of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Burma will depend on whether he can persuade the Burmese regime to allow international relief workers greater access to the victims of the May 2 cyclone.

"We hope that he will have, and his team and all those who accompany him, the access that he needs, around the country, particularly in the delta area because there is a need for not only access but an assessment of the situation and what additional help the international community can provide," said Washington’s UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Ban Ki-moon leaves New York today on a mission to Burma that will take him to Rangoon twice in the course of five days. He arrives in Rangoon on Thursday, then travels to Bangkok for a series of bilateral meetings and returns to Burma on May 25.

He will not meet pro-democracy leaders or Aung San Suu Kyi, his spokeswoman, Michele Montas, told reporters in New York.

"This is going to be strictly a humanitarian trip for the secretary general,” she said. “He's going to go and visit with the victims of the cyclone.

"His objective is to reinforce the ongoing aid operation, see how the international relief and rehabilitation efforts can be scaled up, and work with Myanmar [Burmese] authorities to significantly increase the amount of aid flowing through Yangon [Rangoon] to the areas most affected by the disaster.

"It is also to more effectively coordinate and systematize the international community's emergency relief and longer-term rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance.”

Montas said it wasn’t clear whether Ban would get to meet the junta leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who has ignored all attempts by the UN chief to contact him during the cyclone crisis.

“We cannot confirm who he's going to meet yet, because things are being worked out still," Montas said.

Ban will reportedly be able to visit the devastated Irrawaddy delta region, but will be in Bangkok when polling stations open there on Saturday for voting in the postponed constitutional referendum.

Khalilzad and Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, both welcomed the decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to coordinate relief aid for Burma. "I hope that in the course of this week we will see increasing amounts of aid going and reaching the people who need it," Miliband said.

"I think that some of the statements coming out of the Asean meeting are important, hugely important, because in the end the leadership of the Asean countries is going to be absolutely essential in responding to this crisis.”

Ban and Asean released a joint statement announcing that an international conference will be held in Rangoon to seek international support and financial assistance "to meet the most urgent challenges, as well as the longer-term recovery efforts."

"I think people are dying who don't need to die and it seems to me that it is in that spirit that ministers are going to Rangoon so that spirit of international cooperation is being offered and I hope it is in that spirit that the Burmese authorities will respond positively," Miliband said.

ASEAN and Junta playing the violin whilst people dies

What we need to bring is hand-to-hand,
heart-to-heart help,
not donor conferences with all their
bowing and scraping.
In the meantime, people are dying.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner

ASEAN-Burma cyclone deal 'not enough'

BURMA'S deal allowing Southeast Asian nations to lead a limited foreign relief effort into its cyclone-ravaged areas falls short of the survivors' massive needs, Human Rights Watch said today.

The New York-based watchdog said the world should not relent in its pressure on the regime to allow more foreign supplies in to about two million survivors, despite the agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"While the ASEAN initiative may turn out to be a step forward, it does not have the capacity to address all the urgent needs faced by Burma's cyclone survivors," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"Governments and aid agencies should not delude themselves into thinking otherwise."

The group urged the international community to demand more visas for relief workers, freedom for agencies to oversee aid distribution, and approval for foreign governments to use military assets to deliver aid.

"Until the Burmese Government opens its doors to all aid offered, unnecessary deaths and suffering will continue," Mr Adams said, while urging the United Nations Security Council to take action against Burma's generals.

"How many failed and inconclusive meetings and visits to Burma by diplomats will it take before the UN Security Council acts?"

Cyclone Nargis struck Burma on May 2 and 3, leaving more than 133,000 people dead or missing, according to official reports.

Of the 2.4 million people that the UN estimates the storm severely affected, only about 500,000 have been reached by international aid so far.

Relief organisations have accused the military junta of slowing the flow of life-saving supplies by insisting it can handle the crisis on its own.

Burma agreed at regional talks in Singapore yesterday to allow ASEAN to coordinate an international relief effort, after resisting multiple foreign attempts to deliver aid to hard-hit areas. (NTNews)

Web could change Myanmar

"People power" via the internet could help shame Myanmar into accepting foreign assistance for cyclone victims, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday.

Hailing the internet as a modern force for change, Brown said the web meant the tragedy — which is thought to have left some 134 000 people dead or missing — could no longer be kept a secret.

"It is true that in Burma we have not been able to get as much food and supplies into Burma that we would like but now a country like Burma cannot remain hidden," he told a conference organised by internet giant Google.

"Direct people power is going to be a force not just for individual countries but for foreign policy as well."

He predicted that "whether it is famine, cyclone or whatever, pressure from the people is going to force government interaction".

Brown, who on Saturday described the Myanmar ruling junta of being "inhuman" for refusing outside help, suggested that the internet could have helped give more details of the Rwandan genocide in 1995 as it was developing.

Internet weblogs — online diaries — were now forcing governments to act and be accountable, and could help force change in places like Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Darfur, he added.

"They could feel people coming to express their anger about certain events. The mood could have an impact that means governments will be forced to change their institutions," he added.

Brown, who came to power last year vowing greater openness in government and accountability for politicians, earlier on Monday launched an online version for the public of his weekly question and answer session with lawmakers.

At the conference he announced a tie-up between the British government and Google for an online scheme to map climate change on its Google Earth application.

As he spoke, Myanmar agreed at an emergency regional meeting in Singapore to let its southeast Asian neighbours coordinate foreign assistance for cyclone victims.


Growing concern for the safety of Myanmar’s storm-affected children

NEW YORK, 19 May 2008 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit the cyclone-damaged region of Myanmar this week. The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes began a three day visit there yesterday.

Their trips come at a time of growing concern about the fragile situation of children in the region. The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people have been severely affected by the storm and forty per cent of those are children.

Assistance is reaching victims. Food distribution, in particular, has improved over the past few days. However, much more help is needed.

To prevent further tragedy, UNICEF and its partners need to scale up the distribution of all resources, including funding and personnel to quickly meet the immediate needs of children and their families.

Seeking refuge

Ma Su Su (not her real name) is one of the 500 thousand people living in temporary accommodation after the storm. She and her three-year-old daughter can’t think much about the future.

Since Cyclone Nargis swept across the Irrawaddy Delta in Myanmar almost two weeks ago, Ma and 3,000 other survivors of the storm have sought refuge at Leikkukone Pagoda in Pyapon township.

She has terrible memories of the storm that claimed the lives of her husband and her younger daughter on the little girl’s first birthday.

‘We all fell into the water’

‘Our house quickly fell apart and washed away,’ Ma recalled. ‘We tried to run to higher ground. But we were hit by pieces of broken houses and trees. I was holding both daughters. We all fell into the water.

‘My daughter tumbled from my arms and the water took her away from us,’ she continued. ‘My husband tried to swim after her. I never saw him again.’

The pagoda was one of the few places of refuge on the night of the storm and has since been providing shelter ever since.

Emergency supplies

‘Although there is not enough for all people, we shared what we have,’ the Venerable A. Shin Nandamarlar said, referring to the situation in the pagoda. ‘At first, there were about 3,500 people. Later, some went back to their villages in search of their separated families, so now there are only 3,000 at my monastery. Some only come back for night shelter.’

Although township authorities have been distributing some food, survivors say it remains insufficient to meet their need. Working with the Myanmar Red Cross, UNICEF has been rushing some emergency supplies to the cyclone-affected communities – including water-purification tablets, oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, first-aid kits, essential drugs, tarpaulins for shelter and other basic living items.

And more supplies are on their way, as UNICEF focuses its effort on the hardest-hit townships where the needs are the greatest.

Reluctant to leave

In the first week of the cyclone disaster, there were 45 temporary settlements where more than 17,000 people sought shelter in Pyapon township. Authorities have asked those at the monastery to move to a government shelter in another township.

But having made a few friendships among other female survivors, Ma is reluctant to leave.

‘The survivors here are struggling to find food and water to drink,’ she said. ‘We are suffering. We have lost the people we loved and all our possessions. All I have now is my daughter. People say you survived the disaster, but at present, surviving the disaster has become a disaster.’ (Relief Web)

The Burmese Rulers' Paranoid Home


"There aren't any," says the hotelier, with an embarrassed laugh when asked about the best tourist attractions in Burma's new capital. That's no surprise, really: Naypyidaw — the name translates as "Abode of Kings" — was built from scratch just three years ago, on 1,800 square miles of land carved out of scrubland on the orders of the ruling junta. Naypyidaw doesn't even exist in the Lonely Planet's latest Burma travel guide; there's not much tourist charm in a dusty bunker town that is little more than the wish-fulfillment of paranoid generals.

Naypyidaw is very big, and very empty. Even after cyclone Nargis devastated Rangoon, Burma's former capital, a metropolis of 5 million, still teemed with life. The authorities claim that Naypyidaw, untouched by the storm, is home to almost 1 million. But a recent visit found no more than a couple dozen people, outside of the gangs of manual laborers painting crosswalks and sweeping spotless boulevards. The 20-minute drive from the airport to the Hotel Zone finds just three other vehicles on the road, one of them a horse and buggy.

The Hotel Zone houses all six of Naypyidaw's hotels. Several more are planned — all sharing a bland rancho-chalet-villa aesthetic — although the eagerness and astonishment with which three hoteliers greet a guest doesn't portend well for their occupancy rates.

Even though tens of thousands of civil servants have been forced to abandon Rangoon for Naypyidaw, the new capital has only two markets and three formal restaurants catering to their needs. There's no sign of movie theaters, bars or karaoke dens, and no cellphone coverage — for "security reasons," the locals explain. Three years after the first wave of government employees moved here, Naypyidaw remains under construction. Workers toil in the searing heat, mostly unaided by such modern conveniences as cranes or bulldozers. So far, their efforts have produced, among other things, the country's only major highway, five police stations and three golf courses. (Burma's generals are notoriously fond of the sport.) The new capital is also home to a massive zoo, whose elephants were pillaged from its Rangoon counterpart. Government housing is provided in brightly colored blocks reminiscent of a down-market Florida retirement community. The apartments are color-coded by occupation — blue buildings are for the Ministry of Health, green for the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, and so on.

One attraction of life in Naypyidaw is its 24-hour electricity supply in a country plagued by chronic power shortages and blackouts. But that's not enough to entice civil servants to bring their families here. Asked why her family had remained in the old capital, a 12-year-old girl who'd come with her mother to visit her father here answers in impressive English, "Rangoon is better. Here is bad." Her honesty earns the child a slap on the head from her anxious mother.

Despite the considerable effort evident in the landscaping of the manicured confines of Naypyidaw's Natural Herbal Park and Water Fountain Garden, no people loll in these public green spaces. Indeed, the only place, besides the market, where people seem to be relaxing was at a Buddhist pagoda, where three canoodling couples have sought out shade. But none of the country's omnipresent Buddhist monks appear to have made it to Naypyidaw, not even to its pagoda. Presumably, these instigators of last September's peaceful democracy protests, which were violently suppressed by soldiers aren't overly welcome in a city dedicated to an almost surreal sense of order.

The city's only attempt at a tourist attraction is a replica of Rangoon's famous Shwedagon pagoda. The Naypyidaw version, though, remains unfinished. At the building site, groups of child laborers — some appearing no older than six — lug heavy rocks on woven stretchers and swing pickaxes into the hard earth. Burma's junta has long been considered one of the world's worst human-rights abusers. But the country's generals don't have to see these tiny laborers build a golden temple for their Abode of Kings. That's because the generals are bunkered in another, faraway part of the city, in a vast military zone off-limits to foreign tourists — a sector that doesn't even exist on Burmese maps. (Time)

World Bank refuses loan or aid for Burma

A World Bank top official said the bank will not give financial aid or a loan to cyclone-hit Burma because of outstanding debts.

Managing Director Juan Jose Daboub said the World Bank was working with south-east Asian countries by providing technical support to assess damages in Burma and to help them to plan rehabilitation efforts.

But he said it was “not in a position to provide (financial) resources to Burma” because the military-ruled nation has been in arrears with the World Bank since 1998.

Mr Daboub’s comments come ahead of an aid donors conference in Yangon on Sunday to pledge funds for Burma, which has estimated that losses from the recent Cyclone Nargis exceeded US 10 billion (£5 billion). (ICWales)

US Aid at Half Capacity

The Irrawaddy News

Filled with relief supplies for Burma's cyclone survivors, an American C-130 aircraft prepared for take-off from Thailand at around 10:30 a.m. On Sunday. A few minutes later, the pilot was ordered to cut the engine.

"The flights to Burma have been postponed until tomorrow,” Lt-Col Douglas Powell, a public affairs officer and spokesman for the relief mission, told The Irrawaddy at Utapao Airport in central Thailand. "We didn’t get clearance today,” he said, clearly disappointed.

However, at 12: 15 p.m., US officials suddenly and unexpectedly got the green light to land at Rangoon International Airport. Five C-130s—laden with several tons of drinking water, blankets, mosquito nets and first aid kits—took off immediately.

The smile returned to Lt-Col Powell's face as the planes took off. Burmese air traffic control, he said, would allow five flights in today after all. C-130 flights to Burma, he said, were allowed in “on a case-by-case basis.”

As of Monday, 31 US C-130s had landed in Rangoon with humanitarian aid for cyclone survivors.

The American officer, an Iraqi War veteran, said that, usually, landing permission was only granted in the middle of the night or in the early morning. However, he said, the Americans are “waiting patiently.”

"We would like to get the permission to start our flights at 7:30 in the morning,” Powell said. "If the Burmese government wanted us to move relief supplies out of Rangoon to another area we would help them with that."

When asked about US warships located near Burmese waters, he responded: "We have 10 CH-47s (Chinook helicopters) and we have a lot of supplies on the ships—mostly water and water purification units."

"We have helicopters, landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles that can go into flooded areas and remote areas," he said. "More importantly, we have helicopters that can carry NGOs to deliver supplies."

To date, the Burmese regime has ignored the American offer.

"We have a much greater capacity than the Burmese authorities will allow us,” Powell said. “We have huge transport planes and large helicopters here for relief work. But the Burmese authorities will only allow in C-130s," he said.

The Us officer stressed that, apart from aircraft, the US army has experience in tackling humanitarian crises in the region, such as when US marines were deployed on humanitarian missions during the 2004 tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia.

"The amount the Burmese authorities are allowing in is not enough," Powell said. “The US can deliver 200,000 lbs (90 tons) of goods to Burma every day, but at present, we are only fulfilling half that amount.”

Powell rejected the notion of an airdrop, saying it was dangerous and could create chaos and riots between people and refugees on the ground.

The colonel emphasized that the US has no intention of invading Burma and would not act unilaterally. "I can reassure you that this is not the case,” he said. “We are here on a humanitarian mission."

"I will put Burmese generals [on our flights], if they want to fly with us,” he insisted.

“They can sit next to our pilots and see our mission is purely humanitarian."

After Cyclone Nargis slammed Burma on May 2-3, the US government offered teams of experts and humanitarian relief supplies to the victims. Several naval vessels, including the USS Essex group, had been waiting just outside Burmese waters for more than two weeks, but had been denied permission to dock in Burma.

However, US pilots who have flown recently to Rangoon said that the reception from Burmese officers on the ground was warm and friendly.

Critics have alleged that US emergency aid may not be reaching survivors and that it is held up at Rangoon airport, before being transported to government warehouses.

According to several residents in Rangoon, some humanitarian supplies have ended up in markets in Rangoon. Responding to this issue, Powell said that the US embassy in Rangoon is monitoring this.

“The mission is not successful unless aid is in the hands of the people who need it,” said Powell. “Unfortunately, those who suffer are the Burmese people.”

Myanmar reiterates need to go through procedures for foreign relief donation


YANGON, May 20 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar has reiterated the need to go through designated procedures for relief donations by resident United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organizations (INGO) continuously pouring in the country after cyclone disaster.

"These organizations need to inform the subcommittees of natural disaster preparedness committees at different levels under the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee so that the committees can make arrangements for distribution of the supplies to the storm-hit areas," Tuesday's state newspaper New Light of Myanmar quoted Minister of National Planning and Economic Development U Soe Tha as advising in addition to a prior announcement of the central committee for the requisition.

The report cited some allegations that such relief supplies, donated by these agencies and organizations, were directly sent to the storm-hit areas.

The authorities called for such cooperation with the government, asking these organizations to inform the central committee of their donations and the places they delivered the supplies and contact township level of the committee.

Meanwhile, the authorities have warned against relief aid embezzlement, saying that people who trade, hoard or misuse the international aid for cyclone survivors will be taken legal action.

There were local reports about diversions of such aid or open sale in markets over the past week.

Myanmar outlined a cyclone-relief policy of welcoming aid supplies from any country but at first denying entry for foreign aid workers to help launch rescue and relief operations, saying that it prefers to use its own strength.

Allowed by the Myanmar government later, four foreign medics respectively from neighboring Thailand, India, China and Laos have flown in Myanmar since the past weekend to render direct emergency medical aid to the country's cyclone victims. Each of the teams comprises dozens of doctors and medical staff.

These medical aid groups are now stationing in some storm-hit areas for carrying out relief works with the Thai medics and Mekong healthcare team in Laputta and Myaungmya townships, Indian group in Bogalay and Phyapon, and Chinese group in Kungyangon so far.

In addition, the authorities claimed that a total of 122 domestic medical teams with altogether over 2,000 members have been serving in the disaster-stricken areas.

In the latest development, Myanmar has agreed at a just-ended special meeting in Singapore to let the Association of Southeast Asian Nations coordinate foreign assistance for cyclone victims and accept medical teams and relief workers from all ASEAN member countries to join in.

An ASEAN-UN International Pleding Conference is to be held in Yangon on May 25 dealing with relief aid for Myanmar cyclone victims, the meeting announced.

Meanwhile, Myanmar also announced that the government has increased spending of up to over 50 billion Kyats (over 45.45 million dollars) for relief use from 20 billion Kyats last allotted.
Editor: Du Guodong

Amid prayers for Myanmar's cyclone dead, complaints of corruption

YANGON (AFP) - Rajagopal, one of many volunteers in Myanmar bringing food to cyclone victims, said he was shocked by the desperation of the survivors in the Irrawaddy delta, where he saw corpses still hanging in trees.

But even more appalling, he said, was that local officials demanded that he and his friends pay cash bribes to win permission to bring food into the devastated southern region.

"The survivors are in a dire situation," he said, "and we had to pay bribes to get aid goods into the area."

"It is terrible what this government is doing," Rajagopal added, as he offered prayers at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda for the 133,000 dead or missing.

He was among about 10,000 Buddhists at the pagoda Monday to observe a normally joyous holiday commemorating the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha.

This year, the mood at the pagoda was grim, with residents in Yangon still coming to grips with the tragedy that has left 2.4 million people in desperate need of help, more than two weeks after the storm.

The government has declared three days of official mourning, a rare public acknowledgement of the grief hanging over the nation.

"People are sad. Look at their faces. They are all worried about what's in store in the future," Rajagopal said.

He lost a niece when the storm pounded Yangon, knocking over a tree that killed the girl inside her home.

But he said the suffering in the city paled in comparison to the grisly scenes that still fill the Irrawaddy delta.

"I returned from there three days ago. I saw bodies up on the tree branches," he said.

"We have to help them. This government is not helping," he added.

Myanmar's military regime agreed Monday to allow its neighbours in Southeast Asia to coordinate an international relief effort, but so far shows no sign of relenting in its refusal to allow in foreign aid workers needed to oversee the disaster response.

Many private donors from Yangon and other cities have taken matters into their own hands, delivering food and clothing to victims in the delta, where roadblocks dot the highways in a bid to keep out foreigners.

Other devotees at Shwedagon had stories like Rajagopal's, telling of corrupt local officials trying to profit off the tragedy.

"My friend wanted to give rice to victims in the delta. But the authorities manning the roadblocks demanded money before allowing him to deliver the food," said Zin Khin, a 25-year-old volunteer at the pagoda.

"Myanmar people are angry with the regime's attitude. But there is nothing much we can do," he said.

"We can't take to the streets. They are afraid. This government has killed people before to stay in power. They will not hesitate to kill to remain in power," he said.

Last September, Buddhist monks led marches of more than 100,000 people through the streets of Yangon. It was the biggest protest against military rule in nearly two decades, and the military was unyielding in its reaction.

Security forces shot and beat protesters in the streets, including revered Buddhist monks.

After the crackdown, many monks fled the city. Shwedagon, the country's holiest shrine, was surrounded with barbed wire and closed to the public for days.

Many devotees are still reluctant to return to the pagoda. Zin Khin said only half the normal number of people turned up for the holiday this year.

They slowly circled the golden spires, splashing water at statues of Buddha and at the banyan trees that shade them. Laying flowers, bananas and coconuts as offering to the temple, they recited mantras that also carried prayers for the dead.

"I hope those who died will be reborn with lots of happiness and wealth," Zin Khin said. "For the survivors, I hope aid comes to them quickly." (AFP)

With the Junta or Without It


THE STORY of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated much of Burma more than two weeks ago, long ago moved from the tragic to the criminal. It is now becoming grotesque.

Diplomats from the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have announced they will hold a "donor conference" in Burma's capital on Sunday. This will allow foreign ministers from around the world to preen and promise millions in loans and grants for "reconstruction" that, if delivered, will enrich and empower the corrupt rulers of that unhappy nation. Meanwhile -- thanks to those same rulers -- as many as 3 million people affected by the cyclone will still be suffering, and in many cases dying, because the regime refuses to allow delivery of humanitarian aid on anything close to the scale that's needed.

If this sounds surreal -- what government would deliberately allow its citizens to sicken and die? -- it may be worth reviewing a few facts. Burma is a nation of about 50 million ruled by a clique of generals and hangers-on who overwhelmingly lost a free election in 1990. Rather than honoring the results, the generals imprisoned the winners; Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate who leads the National League for Democracy, has been under strict house arrest for most of the past 18 years. In fact, her year-to-year detention is scheduled to end Sunday, the same day as the "donor conference"; will the foreign ministers be extending loans to the regime on the day it extends her confinement for another year? Meanwhile, in the years since the election, the junta has become known mostly for stealing its nation's plentiful natural resources, forcing children and others into slave labor, and trying to subdue autonomy-minded ethnic groups with mass rape and forced relocation.

It is these generals who failed to issue timely warnings to their population about the approaching cyclone; who, once the cyclone struck, lied about the scope of devastation; who refused to permit the delivery of needed food, water, tents and medicine; and who diverted their soldiers from rescue operations to enforce the conduct of a previously scheduled phony referendum enshrining their rule. Now those same soldiers are chasing reporters out of the disaster zone and confiscating aid from Buddhist monks and other Burmese trying to help their compatriots. Burma's generals are concerned about preserving power, not saving lives, and they fear that foreign aid workers would undermine the regime's legitimacy. So victims of the cyclone are left in the rain, without shelter; lying in mud, without bedding; hungry, without even rice. Every day the danger, and perhaps the reality -- with so few reporters on the scene, we can't be sure -- of cholera, diarrheal diseases, measles and dehydration grows. Meanwhile, a few miles offshore, U.S. and French ships are carrying tons of food and medicine, helicopters, and other tools and supplies.

Tomorrow, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to visit Burma. Good for him. Anything the secretary general can do to call attention to this horror is welcome. But Mr. Ban should not accept the junta's unilateral decision to move on to a "reconstruction" phase. On the contrary, he should make clear that other nations insist on a "humanitarian relief" phase and that they will attend no conferences if they cannot conduct assessments, on site, of true needs. He should make clear that any reconstruction will be conducted in concert with the National League for Democracy. He should warn the regime that the United States and Europe cannot extend loans to individuals and organizations under sanction for their repressive behavior.

And the United States, France, Britain and Indonesia and other neighboring countries should prepare to deliver immediate relief and save thousands of lives, whether or not Burma's generals want them saved. (Washington Post)

Myanmar Cyclone Aid Plan Is Based on 2004 Tsunami, Asean Says

By Michael Heath and Jean Chua

May 20 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar's regional allies will funnel aid into the southern Irrawaddy River Delta, the region hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis, using a plan based on relief operations in Indonesia's Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, will send aid workers to distribute international supplies, the group said in a statement after a meeting in Singapore yesterday.

``The Myanmar government has agreed to accept the immediate dispatch of medical teams from all the Asean countries,'' the group said yesterday. Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan will head the taskforce that will work with the United Nations and the military rulers of the country formerly known as Burma.

Myanmar's junta declared three days of mourning from today for the more than 130,000 people dead or missing after the cyclone struck 18 days ago, the British Broadcasting Corp. said, citing state television. The disaster was the worst to hit Southeast Asia since the 2004 tsunami killed 220,000 people in countries in the Indian Ocean.

The UN-led relief operation mounted in Aceh province after the December 2004 tsunami involved the transporting of thousands of aid workers and tons of relief supplies by helicopter to remote landing strips or by sea to devastated areas. A magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra caused the tsunami that killed more than 165,000 people in Aceh.

As many as 2.4 million people in Myanmar are living in poor conditions, most of them without shelter, enough food, drinking water or medical care, the UN said.

Full Cooperation

The world body's top relief official John Holmes visited three cyclone-affected areas in Myanmar yesterday, including the town of Labutta in the Irrawaddy delta, with full cooperation from the Myanmar authorities, the UN said on its Web site. He will hold talks with Myanmar government officials today.

The UN's World Food Program has organized 13 air cargo shipments into Yangon airport and dispatched enough supplies to feed 250,000 people, it said yesterday. The world body's International Telecommunication Union has deployed 100 satellite terminals to help coordination of the aid effort in Myanmar.

Myanmar's generals, who have ruled the nation of 48 million people since 1962, insisted they could handle the distribution effort themselves and barred international aid workers from traveling to the delta from the former capital, Yangon.

The junta ordered flags to be flown at half staff during the mourning period. It was called yesterday as Myanmar's neighbor and regional ally, China, ordered three days of national mourning for victims of the Sichuan earthquake that killed more than 30,000 people.

Assessment Team

Asean has sent an Emergency Rapid Assessment Team to Myanmar, the group said. ``Myanmar should allow more international relief workers into the stricken areas, as the need is most urgent, given the unprecedented scale of the humanitarian disaster,'' it said.

Asean has long been criticized by Western nations for failing to press Myanmar to restore democracy and censure the junta for human rights abuses. The group consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will arrive in Myanmar May 22 to work with the authorities to ``significantly increase'' the aid flowing through Yangon to the delta, the UN said. His visit comes three days before an international donor conference is held in Yangon to raise money for cyclone survivors.

The international community should ``rise to the occasion and translate their solidarity and sympathy into concrete commitments to help the people of Myanmar emerge from the tragedy,'' Ban and Asean chief Surin said in a joint statement.

The U.S. military flew 15 disaster relief flights into Myanmar during the weekend and yesterday, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

The cargo planes delivered 330 metric tons of supplies, including water, blankets, hygiene kits, bed nets, plastic sheeting, food and medical supplies, he said. There have been a total of 31 such flights into Myanmar to help in cyclone relief.

To contact the reporters on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net; Jean Chua in Singapore at jchua4@bloomberg.net.

Myanmar goes into belated mourning on eve of UN chief's arrival

Yangon (M&C) - Flags were flying at half-mast at all government buildings Tuesday as Myanmar officially launched three days of belated mourning for some 133,000 victims of Cyclone Nargis which smashed in to the country's central coast 18 days ago.

State media announced three days of mourning for the catastrophe's victims Monday night, without providing an explanation as to why the government had taken so long to publicly grieve for the estimated 133,650 left dead or missing by the cyclone, which swept over Myanmar's central coast on May 2 to 3.

The public show of grief has coincided with the visit of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday evening, and UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes, who arrived in Myanmar Sunday and visited three towns in the storm-devastated Irrawaddy delta on Monday.

Although Holmes was not granted an audience with government officials on Monday, a Buddhist holiday in Myanmar, we was to meet with senior officials including, possibly, Prime Minister Thein Sein on Tuesday.

'He's meeting some government officials and possibly the prime minister as well,' said Aye Win, spokesman for the United Nations Information Centre in Yangon.

There are hopes that these high-level UN visits will put pressure on Myanmar's ruling junta to ramp up the international disaster relief effort for their own people, some 2.4 million of whom have been affected by the storm, according to UN estimates.

More than two weeks after Cyclone Nargis, the World Food Programme (WFP) has only been able to reach about one third of the 750,000 people deemed in desperate need of food aid.

The international aid community wants to see Myanmar's military regime ease restrictions on the massive logistical pipeline needed to get emergency supplies to the remote areas in the Irrawaddy delta where most of the cyclone's victims are.

The junta is also under pressure to grant more visas to foreign relief experts, and to allow more international aid workers into the Irrawaddy delta, which is currently off-limits for the vast majority of foreign aid workers.

Ban, who has been unusually outspoken over the last week about Myanmar's refusal to allow outside help in, was scheduled to leave New York Tuesday and arrive in Yangon on Wednesday for a meeting with Myanmar's senior government officials, spokeswoman Michelle Montas said.

'The secretary general was invited to come,' Montas said, adding that the invitation was forwarded to Ban by Myanmar's UN ambassador.

Following the talks in Yangon, Ban will be in Bangkok for discussions with Thai officials on the Myanmar situation and then return to Yangon on Sunday for the UN-ASEAN conference, which was designed to scale up relief activities that have been so far restricted by the military junta in Myanmar.

The UN and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have urged governments to send ministers to the meeting in Yangon, hoping that their presence would increase pressure on Myanmar to open its doors to international relief aid and workers.

'The conference will focus on the needs of those affected by the cyclone, and seek international support and financial assistance for the international humanitarian response to meet the most urgent challenges, as well as longer term recovery efforts,' the UN said.

Both the UN and ASEAN urged the international community 'to rise to the occasion and translate their solidarity and sympathy into concrete commitments to help the people of Myanmar emerge from the tragedy and rebuild their lives.'