Thursday, 22 May 2008

UN chief tours cyclone-hit Burma

By John Heilprin, AP

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew into Burma's disaster zone today as he pressed the country's leaders to open the doors to critical international aid for some 2.5 million cyclone survivors.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein, Ban stressed that international aid experts needed to be rushed in because the crisis had exceeded Burma's national capacity, according to a UN official at the talks.

Ban was then flown by helicopter to the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta, the country's rice bowl, where most of the 78,000 deaths from Cyclone Nargis occurred. Another 56,000 are officially listed as missing.

"The United Nations and all the international community stand ready to help to overcome the tragedy," Ban said after arriving in the country Thursday. "The main purpose of my being here is to demonstrate my solidarity."

As Ban began his visit, foreign aid agencies stressed the need to quickly reach some 2.5 million survivors, many of them suffering from disease, hunger and lack of shelter.

"In 30-plus years of humanitarian emergency work this is by far — by far — the largest case of emergency need we've ever seen," said Lionel Rosenblatt, president of the U.S.-based Refugees International. "And yet right offshore, right here in Thailand, we have the means to save these people."

Ban met for nearly 1 1/2 hours with Thein Sein as well as with international aid agencies in Yangon, Burma's largest city.

In contrast to reports of an emergency situation in the delta, Thein Sein told Ban that the relief phase of the government's operation was ending and focus had now shifted to reconstruction, said the UN official, requesting anonymity for reasons of protocol.

The latest report from the International Red Cross said that in the Bogale area of the delta, rivers and ponds were still full of corpses, and that many people in remote areas had not yet received any aid.

Ban told the prime minister that mutual trust was needed between Burma and the international community, which was prepared to send in airplanes and helicopters to bolster the relief effort, the official said.

Before talks began, the secretary-general visited Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda, regarded as the spiritual heart of the country.

"I praise the will, resilience and the courage of the people of Burma. I bring a message of hope for the people of Burma," he said as bells chimed.

Following local tradition, Ban removed his shoes and socks and padded barefoot around the pagoda, handing the shrine's trustees a donation for cyclone victims.

With Foreign Minister Nyan Win present, Ban said, "I hope your people and government will closely coordinate so that the flow of aid and aid workers' activities can be carried out in a more systematic way."

Security for the secretary-general's visit was heavy, with dozens of armed riot police dotting the road from the airport into the city.

UN official Dan Baker said junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe would meet with Ban on Friday at Naypyitaw, the capital built by the military in a remote area of central Burma. Ban said earlier that Than Shwe had refused to take his telephone calls and did not respond to two letters.

Among a number of Yangon citizens interviewed, few were optimistic about results from Ban's visit.

"I doubt he could do much. The UN has no power here," said Aung Myint Oe, a service industry worker.

Kyaw Htun Htun, a local businessman, predicted that "they (the generals) won't care what the UN says."

But some thought just the visit of Ban, the first secretary-general to visit Burma in an official capacity, could make a difference.

"His presence as a senior UN official is significant. It means there is enough concern in the international community to raise this to that level," said Richard Rumsey, a senior staffer of the aid agency World Vision in Thailand.

"I do feel without a doubt there is not enough being done. There has been huge frustration in getting enough aid to people quickly enough," he said.

The UN says up to 2.5 million cyclone survivors face hunger, homelessness and potential outbreaks of deadly diseases, especially in the low-lying delta. But so far, only about 25 per cent of those in need have been reached by aid.

"There needs to be more equipment. There needs to be more flights coming in. There needs to more boats out there to reach remote areas," said Jemilah Mahmood of the aid agency Mercy Malaysia in Bangkok.

Burma is still reluctant to accept more than a handful of experienced foreign rescue and disaster relief workers.

Following Ban into the delta will be representatives of 29 nations, including Japan, Singapore and Thailand, who have been invited to Burma by the regime. The group, which includes government officials, aid officials and private-sector donors, will visit the region Friday.

Ban said Tuesday that the UN had finally received permission from the junta to use nine World Food Program helicopters to carry aid to stranded victims in inaccessible areas. WFP officials in Bangkok confirmed that 10 flights would be allowed beginning Thursday.

A state-controlled newspaper said Wednesday that U.S. helicopters and naval ships were not welcome to join the relief effort.

The United States, as well as France and Great Britain, have naval vessels loaded with humanitarian supplies — and the means to deliver them — off Burma's coast, awaiting a green light to deliver them.

The New Light of Burma, a mouthpiece for the junta, said accepting military-linked assistance "comes with strings attached" that are "not acceptable to the people of Burma." It hinted at fears of an American invasion aimed at grabbing the country's oil reserves. The article did not say whether French and British supplies would be allowed.

The regime has been letting US military C-130 cargo planes fly in relief goods.

The Independent

KNU leader passes away - Pado Saw Ba Thin Sein

By Naw Say Phaw

May 22, 2008 (DVB)–Karen National Union chairperson Pado Saw Ba Thin Sein died at 2am this morning on territory controlled by the KNU, one of his colleagues told DVB.

Saw David Takabaw, joint general secretary of the KNU, said efforts to save Pado Ba Thin’s life were unsuccessful.

“He had diabetes. He had also been suffering from lung and heart diseases,” Saw David Takabaw said.

“We took him to the hospital but we couldn’t save his life anymore so we brought him back to our place.”

Pado Ba Thin joined the Karen revolution at its beginning in 1949, and devoted his whole life to the Karen people.

“We are very sorry about his passing. It is a great loss for us since he was very loyal to the struggle, he led the KNU as the Chairperson even though he wasn’t very well,” continued Saw David Takabaw.

DVB has also learnt that general Tamalarbaw will take over as acting chairperson for the KNU until the next KNU Congress when a new leader will be elected.

Pado Saw Ba Thin Sein is survived by his wife Naw Ohn Myaing, a son and three daughters.

Brief biography of Pado Saw Ba Thin Sein

March 11, 1927 Born in Hinthata, Irrawaddy division, to Saw Ba Sein and Naw Thin Myat, the second son among nine siblings
1946 Graduated from high school at American Mission School in Hinthata
1949 Joined the Karen Revolution
1963 Central Committee Member, KNU
1970-71 Chairperson, Margue-Tavoy District, KNU
1978 In charge of Education and Cultural Departments, KNU
1983 General Secretary, KNU
2000-May 2008 Chairperson, KNU


Pulling No Punches

The Irrawaddy News

The Irrawaddy recently interviewed Zarni, a former Burmese activist who founded the Free Burma Campaign in the US and led the successful PepsiCo/ Burma boycott that resulted in Pepsi cutting all ties with the Burmese regime in 1997. He now lives in England where his research at Oxford University is focused on Burma’s political and economic developments.

Zarni pulled no punches as he spoke candidly to The Irrawaddy about Than Shwe’s crimes against humanity, the futility of Asean, the spineless West and the Burmese regime’s madness, delusions and fears.

Question: What is your take on the Burmese regime's slow response to the cyclone disaster in the Irrawaddy delta?

Answer: I hold an unequivocal view that the senior leader’s decision—choosing to ignore the cries of 2 million victims, stopping his deputies from mobilizing and sending the Tatmadaw (armed forces) to help with relief operations, and obstructing international aid efforts at the most crucial time—amounts to crimes against humanity.

We will never know how many victims died or will die needlessly as a result of the leadership’s criminal behavior.

Both domestically and globally, Than Shwe is widely believed to have obstructed relief efforts. The Burmese navy itself—and its personnel and families—suffered enormously as a result of the storm. His decision may have killed not only civilians but families of the Tatmadaw as well.

We clearly have an absolute dictatorship in place in our country. He who holds the greatest power is most responsible for anything that happens under his watch. Despots can’t claim ignorance to get away with their crimes and failures.

Q: What is the role of General Shwe Mann, number three man in the ruling council? Initially, there were rumors that he was mobilizing troops for a relief mission that was called off.

A: Sen-Gen Than Shwe is said to have stopped Gen Shwe Mann from mobilizing troops for relief operations. Obviously, Shwe Mann is not in a position to do the right thing, which would have been to either reason with his boss or simply defy this malicious order to let the victims fend for themselves—at a time when they desperately needed rescue and relief efforts.

Q: What is your assessment of soldiers and officers in the armed forces? Are they unhappy with this ongoing national crisis and how the top leadership is mishandling the whole thing?

A: The rank and file members are extremely dejected and insecure about their jobs and their future. They suffer economic hardships themselves. Many of them do not believe in the lofty ideas of the “Three National Causes” or the “Roadmap to Democracy.” They are painfully aware of the public disdain, hatred and disgust to which they are subjected to in their daily encounters.

Many want to leave the army, but at the same time feel trapped because the Tatmadaw is the only means of livelihood they have. But they all feel powerless, caught in an entrenched state structure which is based on absolute loyalty, ruthless punishment and select incentives.

The Tatmadaw’s rank and file members are not the problem—the power structure and the leadership that sits at its head are the real problem. As a society, as a people, as pro-change dissidents, we need to distinguish between needing to dismantle this dictatorial system from hating the soldiers, the human beings who are unfortunately caught in it. They are just like you and me—decent family men with similar daily survival needs.

Q: The regime's Foreign Minister Nyan Win attended the Asean meeting in Singapore on May 19 and gave permission for the regional bloc to lead the aid mission. Is this a breakthrough?

A: To be very blunt, Asean is really just a club of generally un-enlightened regimes, headed by autocrats, feudalists, state-paternalists and militarists—all sharing the worst strain of pathetic “Asian” paternalism.

It is simply guided by soul-less technocracy and commercial interests.

They hang together out of a well-known, deep-seated fear of powerful China. This club has no roots in civil society nor is it influenced by any worthy human or societal values. As far as the collective welfare of Southeast Asian peoples goes, you can’t expect much from this set-up.

Regarding the Asean secretary-general’s visit to Burma, Dr Surin Pitsuwan is a highly educated and thoughtful liberal politician. I met and talked with him some years ago and he is a very impressive Asian democrat with his heart in the right place. Anyone with his stature, knowledge of Burma and involvement from interacting with second-line Burmese military leaders is to be welcomed.

But because of Asean’s futility as a regional group—not to mention its failures to affect any policy or behavioral change on the part of the Burmese regime over the past 11 years—I am not sure what Dr Pitsuwan could accomplish in concrete terms at the moment.

That said, the Asean’s involvement in the current Burma crisis is, in effect, a clear capitulation on the part of the regime which uses “sovereignty” as an excuse to keep any external players at bay—on issues which it considers to be Burma’s “internal affairs.”

Furthermore, the cyclone-induced human and political disaster forced the timid Asean to essentially suspend its irresponsible, long-standing dogma of “non-interference.”

These are both good developments. But I wouldn’t call it a breakthrough or “a turning point.”

Q: So, is the regime’s leadership in crisis? It has to find friends and allies as it faces this national crisis, and its major ally, China, is preoccupied with its own catastrophe: an earthquake on the eve of the Beijing Olympics?

A: I would most certainly say “Yes.” You only need to take a close look at the nature of the regime in power and the pathological ways in which it exercises its power over the people.

These types of authoritarian regimes—with too much power, too little competence and no compassion for their people—periodically self-destruct. Out of delusion and through excessive fear of their loss of power and control, these regimes invent enemies where none exists.

Tragically, neither the generals nor the rank and file appear to comprehend that they have become their own greatest enemy—not the people, not the West, not the international NGOs. Once they realize this, they won’t need the protection from outside powers such as China or Russia.

Q: What do you think the role of China is in all this mess?

A: The Chinese have been holding their Burmese “little brother’s hand,” in the international arena. But even Beijing is said to be deeply frustrated with the regime’s intransigence, madness and utter incompetence.

I think the Chinese may have told the Burmese regime to let the Asean coordinate humanitarian aid deliveries or else they would no longer keep defending the indefensible or keep the West at bay.

Evidently, the Burmese regime is copycatting the way the Chinese leadership and armed forces are handling the aftermath of the earthquake—for example, by declaring a three-day mourning period or flying flags at half-mast. All empty gestures.

In short, China is the single greatest threat to our national interests and will remain so, as long as the military regime is unable to address citizens’ grievances and needs or build internal unity. A divided house is prone to external threats.

Q: Could you share your observation of the West and its reaction to Burma?

A: The Western public has been genuinely outraged by the inhumane manner in which the regime has responded to the cries and needs of the cyclone victims. Also there is a general consensus emerging—across all ideological spectra—that the Burmese regime is committing major crimes against humanity and therefore needs to go, even if it means military intervention, with or without the UN Security Council’s endorsement of such a radical action.

But the problem is a lack of serious political will in the decision-making circles—the White House, Whitehall, etc. Burma is not really an issue of strategic interest for Western powers.

Q: Do you think the West is being hypocritical about Burma since they have no interest in Burma? France, the US and Britain sent warships but are waiting to get the regime’s permission.

Is sovereignty still an issue?

A: Sovereignty doesn’t exist where oil or gas is—unless you are quite advanced in your plutonium enrichment program!

The greatest irony is that Western governments—Washington and London in particular—have exhausted their military and financial resources in Iraq and Afghanistan, so when they really are presented with a case wherein they can realize their humanistic values they don’t have the will, the spine or the resources left.

You hear a lot of huffing and puffing from George W. Bush and Gordon Brown, as well as all kinds of verbal condemnations of the Burmese regime from the West—but no meaningful, concrete political action.

The only Western government that has really attempted to do something audacious is the French, especially their attempt to rally international support for invoking the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) principle.

You may recall that, a few years ago, Britain invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq for oil and strategic interests based on “sexed-up” intelligence reports, in the face of massive popular opposition.

Now, in spite of the swell of popular and media calls for “humanitarian intervention” in Burma, the Brown government has failed miserably to live up to its responsibility to act in the face of a clear-cut act of “malign neglect”—British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s choice of words.

The greatest irony is that Miliband used the occasion of the Aung San Suu Kyi lecture at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, in February to reclaim Britain’s moral duty to promote democracy and human rights around the world and argue that, in some cases, military intervention may even be necessary. He needs to put his money where his mouth is.

Beware. There is a lot of hot air coming from these Western governments. Like I said, oil and strategic interests are what dictate Western policies, not their professed liberal values. All the talk of humanism or humanitarianism is just for public relations.

Q: Why are some INGOS (international non-government organizations) and UN agencies willing to work with the regime and appease the regime? Several NGOs
and Burmese on the Thai border say that there has been an ongoing smear campaign launched by some of the Western donors, agencies and diplomats to discredit IDPs (internally displaced persons) and refugees, as well as the opposition and Burmese living along the Thai-Burmese border. Is this part of a campaign to stop aid flowing into the border area and sever cross-border assistance?

A: Yes, there are NGOs and individuals from the NGO community whose behavior borders on appeasement. But in general, I wouldn’t say the UN agencies and NGOs are appeasing the regime. I think there is a lot of bad blood and misunderstanding between those who view their primary mission as providing aid to the border-based refugees and those who work inside the country where the conditions are equally or even more dire. Many UN agencies and INGOs inside—despite their shortcomings—are engaged in extremely helpful community-building activities, no less pro-change and pro-people than the NGOs and dissident organizations on the border.

That said, there exists a web of extremely unequal power relations between aid-receiving local populations, dissidents, and Western NGOs and Western governments. If I were someone working on aid issues I would seek complementary relations as opposed to creating more misunderstandings and contestations. I don’t think cross-border aid and direct in-country aid are mutually exclusive. That’s the key to building alliances across borders and organizations.

Q: You were a prominent activist who founded the Free Burma Campaign in the US, lobbied very hard and called for sanctions on the regime. You have changed your
position since then.

Also, when Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, you supported calls for invoking the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine in Burma. How do you see yourself these days?

A: I simply see myself as someone who pursues change in our country single-mindedly. I am not wedded to any ideology, strategy, viewpoint, analysis or organization.

My role model is the late Bogyoke Aung San, who zigzagged his way to change in Burma, irrespective of applause or condemnation. When the on-the-ground reality changes, I change my analysis and my advocacy. I never rule anything out, violent or peaceful, legal or illegal, conventionally moral or immoral. The only thing I care about is that the status quo in our country changes, and that it changes for the better.

It was not the cyclone that caused my change of view from pro-engagement to pro-humanitarian intervention or whatever form it takes. It is the callous behavior of the regime’s leadership that pushed its political agenda over the massive suffering of our people that has compelled me to advocate humanitarian intervention. I have lost faith in finding any ounce of compassion or virtue in this regime, especially among the decision makers.

I am not an extremist nor do I take extreme positions. At the height of our pro-sanctions campaign in the US, sanctions were a perfectly mainstream position advocated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. From Day one of my pro-engagement advocacy, I have categorically advocated that both the regime and society need to be engaged—not just engagement with the regime, which I think really amounts to appeasement. I also made it clear to the regime leadership that I am neither their man abroad nor a lackey of the West nor a blind follower of any dissident leader or organization.

Now I chime in on the side of those who want to invoke the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine or humanitarian intervention because the suffering on the ground is massive and the regime leadership responded with extraordinarily mad behavior—holding this referendum on the graves of at least 70,000 Burmese cyclone victims.

Zarni is currently developing an online educational resource for his compatriots—military or civilian, Burman or other nationalities, in exile or within Burma—who are hungry for ideas and analyses. He told us it is not quite ready for launch, but it can be viewed at

No Time Left for Diplomatic Options: Sein Win

The Irrawaddy News

With the lives of people at stake in the Irrawaddy delta, the Burmese prime minister in exile tells US congressmen there is no time left to pursue diplomatic options with the junta.

"As a citizen of Burma and an elected representative, I want to stress that, pursuing diplomatic options to convince an intransigent regime like the Burma generals, is like waiting for people to die and time is something that the people of Burma do not have," Sein Win told US lawmakers during congressional testimony.

"Please help Burma now," the prime minister in exile pleaded, during a hearing on the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis held by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment.

He urged the United States to reject the outcome of the Burmese referendum and the draft constitution, saying it was methodically manipulated by the military.

"The situation is totally unacceptable, and it must not be allowed to continue. We are, therefore, calling on the United States and all nations to do everything they can to start massive relief operations immediately," he said.

Arguing that given that an impoverished country like Burma now needs a long-term recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction program, Sein Win said there is all the more need of a transparent and responsible form of government responsive to the needs of the people. "Democratic transition is the only solution for our country to overcome the challenges lying ahead," he said.

Even though more than 100,000 people have died or are missing and nearly 2 million people are directly suffering from the effects of the cyclone, he said the military junta has done very little to help the people. "Its main focus since the cyclone is to hold a national referendum so that a constitution it had written to legitimize military rule would pass," Win said.

At the same time, it is also preventing the international community from entering the country because of a fear of the presence of international relief workers, he said, and the generals' short-sighted policy has worsened the situation for the cyclone victims.

He said an international NGO working inside Burma estimated that 30,000 children are starving and many children who were already acutely malnourished when the cyclone hit, might be dying now from the lack of food.

Win said the Burmese generals resist international aid and workers inside the country because they are afraid that Burma’s real situation would be exposed.

"What they are afraid is they will lose the control, and that's why they are now reacting in this way. So they not only deny the United States access, but also the United Nations and even Asean until pressure was put on them.

Reiterating the government in exile was not asking for regime change, he said: "That we have to do ourselves. And we will do everything we can to do that, but we want the US and UN and all international community to keep up their strong stand—morally, politically—and help us. But we will do our work, of course. We don't ask the United States to go in and change the regime."

Junta’s voting victory and Cyclone Nargis

By Sai Awn Tai
Shan Herald Agency for News

The Burmese community in Australia felt anger towards the Burmese military junta after the release of the referendum voting results last week. On 15 May, the state-controlled media announced that 92.4% voters have turned “Yes” to the nationwide referendum in Burma.

This announcement was made despite the Cyclone Nargis hitting central Burma in Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions, leaving at least 134,000 dead or missing and up to 2.5 million people homeless.

“It is a joke that military won 92.4% vote,” said Dr John Kaye, the Greens NSW MP and the President of the Australian Coalition for Democracy in Burma. For the military regime to announce such a result shows they are both incompetent and ignorant. It is impossible for any democratic process to reach such results.

There is no government who can get more than 70% result in democratic countries. The strongest government will get only 60 to 70% in support of any major changes. In reality it is clear that the overwhelming majority of the people of Burma do not want this undemocratic constitution, said Dr John Kaye.

A senior lecturer from the University of Western Sydney, Michael Woods, said, the result of this referendum was obviously dishonest, and that people in Burma and around the world understood from this sham referendum that the military has no interest in a democracy.

He also said it was surprising how naive the military appears to be. If they had truly wanted to convince the world that there was any credibility in the referendum, they should not have made up such impossible results. No-one could ever believe that a referendum would achieve a 99% turn-out of voters.

Michael Woods said it is even more impossible that 92.4% of the population would support a constitution that entrenches control in the military, who have proved themselves unable to manage Burma on all fronts - health, education, economic etc. And even with a state controlled media, at least some of the people would have been aware of the lack of response by the military to victims of Cyclone Nargis and rejected any voting in support of the military.

The military made threats to the people of Burma that anyone who voted against the referendum would be punished. There were reports of people being arrested prior to the referendum for simply wearing a t-shirt with the word “No” on it. The military has also forcibly collected money from the people for its campaign on nationwide referendum.

Prior to the constitutional referendum voting on 10 May, the Burmese community in Australia held a number of protests, demanding the military government ensure a free and fair referendum, and allow the opposition groups such as the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic parties which won the General Election in 1990, to participate in the process.

Thousands of political prisoners and exiled groups also should be allowed to take part in the referendum process if it is to be seen as honest, said Dr Myint Cho, the spokesperson of Australia Burma Office.

Pro-democracy campaigners in the lead up to the referendum urged the Burmese voters to say “No”. Critics have noted that there was little chance of voting “No”, as the military refused to allow international observers to ensure it was a legitimate ballot. Burma democracy supporters in Australia also sent letters to the Australian Foreign Minister, Mr. Stephen Smith, urging him to approach the SPDC’s representatives in Australia to offer the Australian Electoral Commission by conducting free and fair voting for the Burmese citizens in Australia.

Mr Smith released a statement noting that the military’s constitution referendum is flawed, and that the intended constitution would only entrench the military's grip on power, and that it was drafted without any genuine involvement of opposition groups, including the National League for Democracy, and Burma's ethnic minorities. He noted:

“Australia has its own sanctions against Burma regime. We will continue with these sanctions, as we will continue to urge upon the Burmese regime that it must begin a genuine political process that allows for the full and complete participation by all political players in Burma”. His criticisms were supported by the US president, George W Bush, who proposed expanding sanctions against the military regime.

But the Burma Campaign Australia wanted Mr. Smith to take even tougher action on the referendum. Dr Myint Cho said: “The Australian Government can do more. The Labor Government led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has very good relations with Burma’s friendly neighbors particularly China, India and ASEAN nations. The Rudd Administration needs to use this leverage effectively in putting pressure on the Burmese regime for an inclusive national reconciliation process”.

Even the constitution which was the subject of the referendum has been labeled as a sham. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had urged the military government to make the constitution-making process inclusive, participatory and transparent to ensure that any draft constitution is broadly representative of the views of all the people of Burma. He urged the military government to undertake substantive and time-bound dialogue with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other ethnic parties as part of a national reconciliation process.

However, the military junta ignored the UN chief’s proposal. The military claimed that they have been moving toward a disciplined democracy and have a firm commitment to a democratic society. The military claimed that the Constitution had already been drafted and it should not be amended again. They said that the majority of the people do not demand any amendments. However, the military themselves included some last-minute changes to ensure that they can never be tried for any crimes they committed while in control of Burma.

The military government even claimed that the constitution drafting process did have representatives from all political parties. But the NLD, other opposition groups and international commentators claimed that the delegates at the National Convention were hand picked by the military government, and were not representative. The officially elected parties from the 1990 election, such as National League for Democracy (NLD), Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and other ethnic parties, were excluded from participating in the constitution drafting process.

The leader of NLD party, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained in house arrest for more than 13 of the last 19 years. In the mean time, SNLD leader, Sao Khun Htun Oo has been sentenced for 93 years imprisonment along with other Shan State leaders since November 2005. Their only crimes have been to criticize the military.

This constitution allowed the non-Burmese citizens who hold temporary cards to vote the referendum, so that many of the recent Chinese immigrants benefiting from military control could vote. This is against international & national laws. “Now we heard that the military regime have produced several cards for one person. A person can hold up to 4-5 cards. It means that there is no law in Burma. They just do whatever they want,” U Aung Htoo, secretary of Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) based in Thailand, said at the Public Forum on the military regime’s referendum in Sydney.

Many now call for the rejection of the sham result. Dr John Kaye said that Australia should have used its close relationship with ASEAN, particularly with China, to urge pressure on the military regime in Burma to make sure that the pretence of democracy does not to go ahead. Dr Myint Cho said that the people of Burma know that the regime will lie the international community by announcing that its constitution is approved by the people even if all of the people overwhelmingly vote “NO”.

Burma’s major political forces, in particular the NLD, SNLD and ethnic parties will not recognize the referendum result and will continue their campaign against the regime’s so-called “road map to democracy”.

Similarly, western democracies and Australia will not recognize the referendum results and reiterate their call for the beginning of a genuine and inclusive national reconciliation process. However, the regime will surely attempt to use the result to divide international public opinions and increase its effort to gain legitimacy from friendly governments in particular India, China, Thailand and Russia, which have vested interests in Burma.

Cyclone Nargis has exposed the military regime as one not been caring about its own people. The UN chief Ban Ki-Moon and the international community urged the military regime to postpone the 10 May nationwide referendum and focus their efforts on more than 100,000 people dead and 2.5 millions people are facing starvation. However, they ignored these calls, and have neglected actions to help those affected by the worst natural disaster in Burma’s history. A regime which puts its own interests before that of the people it claims to represent is not one that can be trusted.

The writer is a student of journalism in Australia – Editor

Fear of future disasters should stop China's dam projects in Northern Burma: KDNG

Fear of unnamed future disasters should stop China from going ahead with dam projects in Northern Burma.

The Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) has strongly urged China to stop its current dam projects in Northern Burma to avoid a rerun of the dam disaster faced in China's earthquake hit Sichuan Province, the group leader said.

China warned three days after the magnitude of the earthquake, which was 8.0 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan on May 12, that if the dams in the earthquake zones burst, the floods could put millions in peril as a "secondary disaster", the state media Xinhua news agency reported.

The earthquake in China has killed over 40,000 people, however millions of people in the earthquake zone are living under great danger of hydroelectric power dams' bursting, the Xinhua stated.

Meanwhile, the joint inspection team of China and Burma for the seven-dam projects, estimated to generate 13,360 MW, is underway in Kachin State in Northern Burma which is on the earthquake zone along with China's Yunnan Province.

They have plans to generate 3,600 MW of electricity on the Irrawaddy confluence (Myitsone) in Irrawaddy River, 2,000 MW project in Chibwe, 1,600 MW project in Pashe, 1,400 MW project in Lakin, 1,500 MW project in Phizaw, 1,700 MW project in Khaunglanhpu (Hkawnglang Hpu) in N'mai Hka River and, 1,560 MW project in Laiza in Mali Hka River in Kachin State.

The projects are being implemented by "The Hydropower Project Implementation Department under the Ministry of Electric Power (1) and China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) since 2006.

Among them, heavy inspection is underway at Myitsone in Irrawaddy River and Chibwe in N'mai Hka River by Chinese engineers for the last two years, eyewitnesses said.

Mr. Awng Wa, Chairman of KDNG warned, "If the seven dams are built in Kachin State, Myitkyina Township the capital of Kachin State will be at risk of floods from dams where an estimated population 140,000 live. Hundreds of thousands of people in Waingmaw, Sinbo and Bhamo Townships along the Irrawaddy River will also live in the danger zone."

The KDNG published a report titled "Damming the Irrawaddy" last year and urged both Chinese and Burmese governments to stop the dam projects in Myitsone, the Irrawaddy confluence, one of the best tourist attractions in northern Burma.

8 Burmese Journalists Arrested in Laputta

The Irrawaddy News

Eight Burmese journalists who were trying to cover the cyclone disaster in Laputta Township in the Irrawaddy delta were arrested on Monday night by Burmese soldiers and detained for one night, according to sources in Rangoon.

Those arrested included journalists from The Voice journal, Yangon Times and 7 Day News journal.

A Rangoon-based colleague of one of the detained journalists told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday: “Soldiers came and arrested them at their hotel about 11 p.m. The soldiers accused the eight reporters of failing to inform the authorities of their presence in Laputta and then arrested them.

“The soldiers deleted all the photographs the journalists had taken,” the source said. “The soldiers threatened the journalists and swore at them.”

The eight journalists were interrogated all night by the soldiers, who were reportedly assigned to Light Infantry Division 66, said the source.

The journalists were released the following morning at about 7 a.m. after signing an agreement with the authorities that they would not return to cyclone-affected areas again without military authorization.

Since the cyclone of May 2-3, the Burmese military authorities have further tightened their strict code of censorship and restrictions on journals and publications in Burma, said the source.

“Only positive stories are allowed. Photos about refugees, victims and children are always rejected,” said the source in Rangoon. “The censorship board will only allow propaganda stories and photos, such as reconstruction projects, to be published.”

All publications are banned from printing the rising death toll from Cyclone Nargis, added the source.

Meanwhile, owners of guest houses in Laputta and Bogalay have been ordered to submit their guest registers to local authorities and report any arrivals of strangers, foreigners or persons from organizations that could be aid-related.

The Burmese military government announced on May 9 that it would permit supplies and aid from the international community to the affected regions, but that no foreigners or persons without permits could enter the cyclone-affected areas in the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon Division.

Europe tries threats to open Burma (Myanmar) to aid

By Mark Rice-Oxley | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Leaders hope their charges of a crime against humanity will push the junta to expand relief efforts.

LONDON - European leaders have accused Burma (Myanmar) of a crime against humanity for its stubborn response to cyclone aid relief, in a tactic to pressure the regime and save lives.

While also using "soft power" diplomacy to pry open channels to the leadership and persuade the generals to relent, ministers from France to Finland have been brandishing the strongest possible language – which comes with subtle legal undertones.

A "crime against humanity" is one of four scenarios which, under a 2005 United Nations doctrine, can trigger forcible international humanitarian action. Strictly speaking, it only applies to cases of war. But if the UN agreed that such a crime was being perpetrated, the case for UN-backed intervention would become compelling.

In practice, both sides know this is a last resort, but the Europeans are brandishing the threat to coerce the regime into action.

The tactic may be working. The military junta ruling Burma has softened its stance somewhat in recent days, agreeing to more humanitarian help from regional powers – and to a visit by UN chief Ban Ki Moon, who is expected to arrive in the country Thursday.

But they are still balking at the kind of large-scale foreign intervention that Europe and the US want to see across the Irrawaddy Delta, where aid groups fear more than 130,000 have died since the May 3 cyclone. The generals say the rescue effort is over and now it's time for reconstruction. The UN by contrast says 1.4 million people still need urgent help.

"All different forms of pressure have been voiced in the last days and weeks," says John Clancy, spokesman for European Union (EU) humanitarian aid commissioner Louis Michel, who visited Rangoon last week. "If all of this pressure manages to open up [the country] even a little bit and allow in aid to save lives, then it will be important."

If Europe is adopting a good-cop, bad-cop approach, then Mr. Michel was the good cop. His visit – during which he reassured the junta there was no political subplot at play – paved the way for visits by the UN's top humanitarian aid official, John Holmes, the British minister Mark Malloch-Brown and now Mr. Ban.

Ban will meet the junta head Gen. Than Shwe, tour the stricken delta area, and return to Rangoon on Sunday to co-chair an aid-pledging conference.

But back in Europe, key figures are playing bad cop. France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was the first to invoke a "crime against humanity" and said failure to act by the UN Security Council would be "cowardice."

Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, characterized the regime's response as "inhuman." Ministers from Spain and Finland also resorted to the "crime against humanity" label. And EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the UN charter "opens up some avenues" to get aid in "if things cannot be resolved."

A European diplomat based at the Security Council in New York says: "We haven't ruled anything out and will consider all options. Our focus isn't on the labels we attach but on getting aid in. We think the Security Council can lend its voice to political pressure on the government to improve access."

Tying Burma's response to a crime against humanity has legal implications: A 2005 UN doctrine committed the international community to a "responsibility to protect" (R2P) doctrine. It would have to intervene "should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

Technically, the legal principle only applies in cases of war. But Donald Steinberg, vice president of the International Crisis Group, says that in Burma's case it could apply because "a government that sees a situation where tens or hundreds of thousands are likely to die because of inability to provide relief and says no to international humanitarian aid is itself committing a crime against humanity."

Gareth Price, head of the Asia program at the Chatham House think tank in London, adds that "it's not clear whether [R2P] applies to a natural disaster. The assumption has to be it applies whenever it would work, but where do you draw the line?"

Yet two major problems face those who want to trigger R2P. First, they would need approval in the Security Council – where efforts to even discuss Burma have foundered on the objections of China and Russia, who insist that sovereignty takes precedence over humanitarian concerns. Second, even if the UN were to approve a forcible humanitarian mission (which it has done with mixed results in the past in Bosnia, Somalia, and Iraqi Kurdistan), it would face hostility in carrying out its mission.

"If you intervene militarily against the wishes of a host government – and one that has hundreds of thousands of troops under arms – it is virtually impossible to set up the kind of distribution systems, transport systems, medical support in order to save massive amounts of lives," says Mr. Steinberg.

Sean Keogh, an aid worker who just returned from a week in Burma, says airdrops must be a last resort. "If you airdrop without staff on the ground it means the most vulnerable people will get missed. It can cause conflict and tension in communities," he says.

But if the Europeans aren't holding a strong hand, neither is the junta. "They somehow believe the biggest threat is the entry of all these foreign relief experts, " says Steinberg. "The biggest threat is that they screw this up so badly that tens of thousands more die and the people of Burma rise up and say enough is enough."

Cyclone victims take on junta authorities in Rangoon

By Zar Ni
Mizzima News

Palpable tension was in evidence after there was a brawl between cyclone victims and the police in Rangoon. Earlier, the victims stormed into the Ward Peace and Development Council (PDC) office when distribution of relief material was stopped and a young woman was assaulted.

Irate cyclone victims frustrated over the authority's refusal to distribute relief material donated by private donors in No. 72 Ward, South Dagon Township clashed with the police. The riot police was summoned.

"Police patrol cars and policemen equipped with shields arrived on the scene where chaos prevailed. The police dragged out some persons who were distributing the relief supplies to the victims from among the crowd," a local resident who did wish to be named said.

After the incident, the security forces cordoned off the entry points of South Dagon Township and it was reopened this evening.

The donors distributed 6 pyis of rice, one sarong, a piece of cloth and a blanket to each household. After distributing it in about 500 households, the donors left the remaining supplies in the hands of the local authorities for distribution. The local authorities closed their office door and stopped distribution, local residents said. (One pyi approximately equals two kilograms)

Trouble broke out after officials stopped distribution of the remaining relief materials.

"They closed the Ward Peace and Development Council (PDC) office. Then they announced that the distribution has been stopped. The women queuing up in front of the office were angry and asked why. Then a local official (chief of 100 households) asked the people if they were prepared to accept 6 tins (condensed milk tin) of rice (instead of 6 pyis)", a woman resident said.

"When the women replied 'yes', a woman called Ma Aye Mu from the 'Federation of Women's Affairs' ordered the women to come in. Following, which she beat up a girl, who first entered the office with a bamboo staff. The people were enraged when they saw the girl's hand had been broken. All the women present at the office stormed in and tried to kill the officials," she added.

Worried junta officials deployed more police personnel in the township.

The police source said that about 100 police personnel led by Deputy Chief of Karen State police force arrived in South Dagon Township at 10 a.m.

The police were deployed in groups of 10 to 12 personnel around the Township PDC office, Township Police Force and other key places in the township.

Cyclone victims cannot wait for succour

Mungpi - Mizzima News

New Delhi – Even as the United Nations and regional countries gear up to call for more aid for Burma's cyclone victims, aid workers on the ground said time is running out.

The UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member, said they will hold a pledging conference for cyclone victims in Rangoon on Sunday.

An aid worker in Rangoon, who requested anonymity, said cyclone victims are dying by the hour as several villages, where the cyclone left its mark, had not received any relief or aid supplies.

"The conference, in principle is welcome, but is behind time. Time has been wasted in saving lives," the aid worker said.

The aid worker, whose organization has been providing aid extensively to villages in Irrawaddy delta, said more aid supplies and access to the affected areas is the need of the hour.

"It is not the time to talk but act, if we want to save lives," he added.

On Monday, Foreign ministers of the ASEAN agreed to form a task force that will give shape to the ASEAN-led mechanism in coordinating and liaising with the UN and the international community in assisting Burma to recover from the impact of Cyclone Nargis.

The ASEAN and the UN also agreed to hold a pledging conference on Sunday that will invite international donors to assist Burma in their effort to recover from the cyclone.

But the ASEAN's initiative, accepted by the Burmese junta after more than two weeks of the cyclone, could be the junta's ploy of avoiding international pressure to open their doors for aid agencies to help cyclone victims, the Burma Campaign UK said.

"This is a dilatory tactic being played by the regime. They don't care about the people dying," Mark Farmaner, director of the UK based Burma Campaign said.

Farmaner said, the junta is worried about the voices of the international community that has demanded unilateral action against the junta and refusing permission to aid workers to enter the affected areas.

"So, they are willing to accept the Asean-led initiative," said Farmaner, adding that he does not even believe that the Asean-led mechanism would be implemented at all as the junta is just playing another game.

"The Asean-led mechanism is not enough to save lives and worse, it might never be implemented at all," he added.

Meanwhile, the Burmese government on Tuesday announced a three-day national mourning for the cyclone victims, after more than two weeks. Critics said it is just a show and asked; Where was Than Shwe all this time?

Than Shwe, Burma's military supremo, in the past two weeks since Cyclone Nargis hit the country's coastal region, made two public appearances – during the constitutional referendum and on Saturday, to take a look at cyclone victims.

Win Min, a Burmese military analyst based in Thailand, said Than Shwe has been in his jungle capital Naypyitaw ever since the cyclone hit Burma and was not concerned about the impact of the devastating cyclone.

"His only concern is for the referendum and he does not care if millions of people die," Win Min said.

However, after a 92.4 percent approval of the constitution in the rigged referendum, Than Shwe finally made an appearance at government orchestrated refugee camps in Rangoon and Irrawaddy division.

The government said it has been providing aid and assistance to cyclone victims and even declared that the phase of emergency is over and it is embarking on the next phase of reconstruction.

However, the United Nations said only less than 25 percent of the estimated 2.5 million cyclone victims have received initial aid and more aid – food, water and medicines – are needed to avoid the 'Second wave of Death.'

The World Food Programme, which has a number of warehouses in Burma including in Laputta and Bogale townships, which are among the hardest hit by the cyclone, said they have been able to despatch food to 340,000 people out of their targeted 750,000 victims.

"Clearly, more aid is needed for the victims," Marcus Prior, WFP spokesperson told Mizzima.

But Burma Campaign UK's Farmaner said the Asean-led mechanism and the UN's efforts to hold a pledging conference might not help, as the Burmese regime makes promises, whenever it faces pressure but never keeps them.
"Because we know that the regime lies, over and over again,"
Farmaner said.

Altsean Suggests Compromise over International Aid

The Irrawaddy News

Burma democracy activist Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network (Altsean), spoke to The Irrawaddy about the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in helping survivors of Burma’s cyclone.

Question: Asean has announced that the bloc will set up a task force to handle distribution of foreign aid for cyclone victims in Burma and will work with the UN to hold a donor conference in Rangoon on May 25. How much difference will it make to have international relief experts on the ground in Burma?

Answer: We certainly hope that this will open the doors for relief experts. The SPDC [the Burmese government] must understand that they cannot get something for nothing. If they want access to urgently-needed aid to rebuild the damage and threat to the economy caused by Cyclone Nargis, they must allow relief experts in to help the people. If they obstruct the Asean-led mechanism, Asean should wash their hands of the regime and endorse a humanitarian intervention. That means Indonesia and Vietnam must use their position at the UN Security Council to permit such intervention.

Q: Supplies are one thing, and getting them to the affected areas along with skilled support staff is another. Is it your understanding that foreign, Asian aid staff will be allowed unhindered access in numbers sufficient to make a difference?

A: We are extremely worried that despite the nice declaration made in Singapore on Monday there is no specific guarantee that this will happen. It must happen. Stopping aid supplies and aid experts from reaching those areas would be the equivalent of murdering those survivors—men, women and children.

Q: The meeting agreed that this Asean-led approach was "the best way forward" while Burma is still ignoring help from the western countries. Can Asean countries take the leadership role and pull this off? Or, as is the case in the past, will it be more words than real action?

A: This is the test of Asean's ability and will. If Asean's leaders don't pull this off, they deserve to be dropped off in the worst-affected parts of the Irrawaddy delta without clean water, supplies or equipment. They have already caused a lot of damage by their previous inaction on this crisis.

Q: Will Asean have a way to get aid directly into the delta? Aid through Rangoon will create a bottleneck. Aid must be delivered by helicopters to the most remote areas. Will Asean push for airborne access, via helicopters or air drops, directly into the delta?

A: If Asean wants to use the most practical and effective way, it is essential they use helicopters to deliver supplies, equipment and personnel.

Q: Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said that he has already received support from the UNOCHA and the World Bank. But the World Bank said it is not in a position to give aid to Burma, saying the cyclone-hit country has been in debt repayment arrears since 1998. How will Asean hope to get the money necessary, which, according to some sources, could be as much as US $10 billion?

A: Asean itself does not have that kind of money to spare on such an effort. This is why it must convince the SPDC to cooperate with the international community, which has already pledged assistance. The SPDC is getting billions of dollars in revenue from exploiting Burma's natural resources. They should use that money to rebuild the infrastructure of the delta.

Q: Do you expect the leadership of Asean to take a proactive role?

A: Asean cannot afford to be the silent partner in this situation.

We believe Dr Surin knows what to do but he needs the wholehearted and united backing of Asean governments and his secretariat.

Q: What else can Asean do to get Burma to open up to allow international experts
and aid to get to the cyclone victims rapidly and directly?

A: Well, for a start Asean could borrow the services and equipment of the various foreign navies anchored off the coast of Burma, and on standby in Thailand. Those assets are ready and waiting. Asean can also start transporting the supplies from those ships into the delta area. Since the SPDC is so afraid of being attacked with food and medicines, that could be the most productive compromise for now.

Burma Continues to Recruit Child Soldiers

The Irrawaddy News

Burma remains the most persistent government offender in the world when it comes to the recruitment of child soldiers, says a global report released on Tuesday. The report estimates that thousands of children are recruited into the armed forces.

"The most notable offender remains Myanmar [Burma], whose armed forces, engaged in a long-running counter insurgency operation against a range of ethnic armed groups, are believed to contain thousands of children," said the 2008 Child Soldiers Global Report.

The report, by Coalition to Stop Use of Child Soldiers, studied the issue of child soldiers from 2004 to 2007 and was released at the UN headquarters in New York by its director Dr. Victoria Forbes Adam.

"Thousands of children continued to be recruited and used in the Tatmadaw Kyi (Burmese Army) and in armed political groups, as the army continued its expansion drive and internal armed conflict persisted in some areas of the country," the report said.

"The situation is not getting better," Joe Becker of Human Rights Watch told The Irrawaddy after the report was released.

"As the government plans to expand its army, it is looking for more and more child soldiers," she said.

Burma, the report noted, has officially established age 18 as a minimum age requirement to enlist in the armed forces. "However, in practice, the Tatmadaw forcibly recruited both adults and children through intimidation, coercion and violence," the study said.

While it is difficult to get information from inside Burma, the report said the Defense Services (Army) Officers' Training School in Bahtoo and the tri-services Defense Services Academy (DSA) in Maymyo were the two main officer training schools. The latter accepts high-school dropouts between 16 and 19 years of age for a four-year course, according to the study.

"Recruits underwent physical and combat training, which reportedly proved particularly difficult for the younger children. They also had to work on farms or at other business ventures of officers," it said.

The report said that after training, these children are used as guards at checkpoints, porters, cleaners and spies, and in active combat. Once deployed, they are at risk of attack, malnutrition and disease.

"The younger boys were sometimes kept at the base and acted as officers' servants, sentries or clerks. Child soldiers witnessed or participated in counter-insurgency activities such as the destruction of villages and crops," said the report.

According to the study, several ceasefire groups and armed groups allied to the Burmese junta were also reported to recruit and use child soldiers. Prominent among them are the Karen National Union-Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (KNU-KNLA PC); the United Wa State Army (UWSA); the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA); the Kachin Independence Army (KIA); and the Karenni Nationalities People's Liberation Front (KNPLF).

A Survivor’s Story

The Irrawaddy News

The horror of the cyclone is written on the lined face of Kyin Hla, who sits disconsolately at the entrance to the Thaya Mara Zein pagoda in Laputta. Tears flow down her drawn cheeks as the 65-year-old recalls the hours she spent fighting for her life when Cyclone Nargis struck—and as she thinks of the fate suffered by 12 members of her family, including grandchildren.

At 11 a.m. On May 2, Kyin Hla was busy with household chores in her one story house in Bi Tut village, in the Kyein Chaung district of the Irrawaddy delta region. The house is—or, more accurately, was—part of a farm where her extended family of 20 lived.

Her grandchildren were playing happily outside. There was no sign of the impending catastrophe.

At 11: 20 a.m. the wind picked up and the water seemed to rise on the nearby beach. Kyin Hla was used to inclement weather in the monsoon months, but she still called her grandchildren inside and closed the windows.

At 12 noon, the sky took on an angry red color and filled with massive dark clouds.
Kyin Hla, alarmed now by the worsening weather, drew her grandchildren close and prayed to Buddha.

The wind grew stronger and shook the house, finally carrying away the roof and blowing down its walls. Cries for help filled the air.

About 1:00 p.m. a tidal wave two meters high demolished what was left of the house. Kyin Hla grabbed her grandchildren, but a surge of water separated them. She heard one of them cry “Grandma” as they were swept away.

Kyin Hla fought with the surging current, joining a flow of struggling villagers, bodies, livestock, the remains of houses and whole trees. People screamed for help.

With the last of her strength, she grabbed the branches of a large tree and hung on. After two hours the wind died down and the rain stopped. The water also gradually subsided, and Kyin Hla was able to clamber down from the tree, collapsing with exhaustion at its base.

She awoke the next morning. Around her lay bodies, animal cadavers and the detritus of the storm.

The raging water had ripped most of her clothing off and she took a sarong from a dead woman and covered herself with it. She set out to look for her village, meeting a group of other survivors, some of them naked. They gave her coconut to eat and that became their only food on their march in search of help.

After four days, they came across a boat, which took them to Laputta. She found shelter in the Township’s State High School No. 2, and was later reunited with three of her sons and five daughters-in-law, living in a refugee camp. But there was no sign of her grandchildren or other members of her family.

Now she prays for them and for a better life in the hereafter. "Shall we free from such a disaster in our next life?” she asks in her prayers in the Laputta temple.

Cyclone Survivors Don’t Want UN Chief to Visit Delta

The Irrawaddy News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locals claim Rangoon authorities still misappropriating aid

By Nan Kham Kaew

May 21, 2008 (DVB)–Authorities are continuing to misappropriate and sell relief supplies donated by the international community for cyclone survivors, according to residents of the former capital Rangoon.

Rangoon residents said that the wives of local officials have been selling meat, fish and cooking oil at markets in Bahan township, and are selling salt door to door.

“The wives of Ward Peace and Development Council officials are selling fish for 300 kyat each,” said a local housewife.

“Some said the fish had been exported from foreign countries and were meant for cyclone victims. They are also selling non-iodized salt door to door for 50 kyat a pack.”

Authorities have also been selling palm oil, which residents say they have switched with cooking oil donated from Thailand, in different places in town since 17 May.

“Thailand has donated cooking oil but we don’t get any,” another Rangoon resident said.

“We can only have palm oil and we have to purchase it,” he said.

“Authorities get oil traders to buy palm oil from Nyaungpinlay market for 4000 kyat a viss (1.5 kg) and sell it to the people at 2500 kyat a viss. Traders have to sell oil in rotation.”

According to current market prices, a viss of peanut oil costs 5000 kyat and a pack of iodised salt 900 kyat.

Rice, cooking oil and salt are essential components of Burmese food. Mallemein, Latputta, Ngaputaw and Arakan are the main salt producing areas in Burma but salt fields were destroyed in some places this year due to bad weather conditions.

U Kyin Win, an elected people’s parliament representative from Ngaputaw, warned that people may face salt shortages in the future because of insufficient production and the impact of the cyclone.

Authorities give out food in exchange for ‘Yes’ votes

May 21, 2008 (DVB)–Local authorities in Thingangyun township, Rangoon, have been giving rice and cooking oil to families who agree to vote ‘Yes’ in the constitutional referendum, a local resident said.

A Thingangyun resident said people in one ward had been given the basic goods in return for the whole family voting ‘Yes’.

"People who live in Kyipwaryay ward were asked by local authorities to votes 'Yes' in the coming referendum,” the resident said.

“Each family who agreed to vote 'Yes' was given 4 pyi of rice and 50 kyattha of cooking oil,” he went on.

“Not everyone in a family necessarily needed to cast their own votes – just one member of the family could vote on behalf of the others."

An employee of Kyimyintdaing township's High School (2) told DVB that all school employees living in school quarters had been directed by the school's headmistress to cast 'Yes' votes in the referendum.

Those who had already voted 'No' in advance were ordered by the headteacher to vote again in support of the constitution.

The Burmese military regime held its referendum on the draft constitution in most of the country on 10 May, but polling was delayed until 24 May in 47 townships in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions that were worst affected by the recent cyclone.

The junta has already announced the results of the 10 May vote, claiming 92.4 percent of voters supported the constitution.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Cyclone victims suspect officials of switching aid

May 21, 2008 (DVB)–Survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Maaupin believe that rice donated by the Swiss government was taken by local authorities and replaced with poor quality supplies.

A relief worker in Maaupin said the cyclone victims had noticed the quality of rice when they opened the bags, but did not initially confront the authorities about it.

"Cyclone refugees in Maaupin were disappointed to find that bags of rice labeled as being sent by the Swiss government contained only broken rice grains when they were opened,” the relief worker said.

Some town residents asked the Union Solidarity and Development Association members who were responsible for distribution for an explanation, the relief worker said.

“They claimed they had not made any changes to the bags since they arrived,” he said.

“But no one believes the Swiss government would give cyclone victims bags of broken rice grains."

The relief worker said Myo Win, a local Ward Peace and Development Council member, had been seen openly selling rice.

When asked by townspeople for an explanation, he reportedly said that the community would be able to buy more necessary aid supplies with the profit he made from selling the rice.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

Junta pays ‘fake refugees’ to pose as cyclone victims

May 21, 2008 (DVB)–The Burmese authorities have been forcing cyclone victims to return to their villages and replacing them with paid "fake refugees", according to a private donor who recently returned from Bogalay.

The donor said the refugees had been ordered to return to the villages immediately.

“The situation is the same in Laputta, Bogalay and other areas of Irrawaddy division, and in Kunchangone – people have pleaded in tears but to no avail,” she said.

“[The authorities] want to show the international community that there are no refugees here.

The donor said they wanted the refugees out in time for United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the area.

“They are replacing them with fake refugees and when people do interviews, they let them see these people,” she said.

“I saw them myself. They are paid at a rate of 1500 a day. They admitted to me that they are pretending to be refugees because they get the money.”

The donor said that if the refugees returned to their villages, they would not have access to any assistance.

“The real refugees’ children and parents are dead,” the donor said.

“They are being forced to return to the village when they are in a very fragile mental state, and when they are in their villages they don’t get the international aid and private donors like us,” she said.

“I am still feeling very distressed and broken-hearted for them.”

Another donor said the situation was similar in Kyauktan in Rangoon division.

“They are keeping some 400 people who had been helped for show on the route,” he said.

“They only reached that area [with assistance], not the other areas. Now they are being forcibly relocated.”

Reporting by Htet Yazar

Dialogue of the deaf!

YANGON: Talks to speed up aid for cyclone-hit were last night termed as 'dialogue of the deaf' as the UN urged Myanmar to focus on saving lives and not politics.

This is a critical moment for Myanmar, warned UN Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon, who was set to hold crisis talks with the top-most general in the devastated country's junta.

EU aid chief Louis Michel gave voice to international frustration over aid delays and condemned Myanmar's lack of trust after its military government shunned a US proposal for naval ships to deliver vital supplies.

"You sometimes get the impression that of being in a dialogue of the deaf. It's extremely difficult to reach the person in front of you," Michel added, calling his trip "extremely frustrating".

The UN says 2.5 million survivors of the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis face hunger, homelessness and potential outbreaks of deadly diseases.

Ban will fly today to Myanmar on a mission to scale up relief efforts and lobby the junta to allow more foreign aid workers into the isolated country.

He said his two-day visit would include a trip to areas devastated by the cyclone and talks with officials, including junta leader Senior General Than Shwe.

Before leaving UN headquarters, Ban said the world body had finally received permission from the junta to use helicopters to carry aid to stranded victims.

"We have received government permission to operate nine World Food Programme (WFP) helicopters, which will allow us to reach areas that have so far been largely inaccessible."

The WFP officials in Bangkok confirmed later that 10 flights would be allowed and would begin making runs from today.

Myanmar's state-controlled media said yesterday that US helicopters or naval ships were not welcome to join the relief effort.

The New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece for the ruling junta, said accepting military assistance "comes with strings attached" that are "not acceptable to the people of Myanmar".

The report cited fears of an American invasion aimed at grabbing the country's oil reserves.

The US, as well as France and Great Britain, have naval vessels loaded with humanitarian supplies off the Myanmar coast, waiting for a green light to deliver them. The article did not say whether the French and British supplies would be allowed.

American military aircraft are already sending aid on about five flights a day from Thailand to Yangon.

The New Light of Myanmar did not explain why the regime was willing to accept aid flown on US C-130 cargo planes, with US military personnel on board, but would not allow the warships and helicopters to deliver relief supplies.

So far, the few foreign aid workers allowed inside the country have been banned from areas of the worst devastation in the delta.

"We have a functioning relief programme in place. But so far we have been able to reach only about 25 per cent of the people in need," Ban said.

More than 78,000 people were killed in the storm and 56,000 remain missing.

Ban also planned to attend a meeting of aid donors convened jointly with Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Yangon on Sunday.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said: "The government wants more than $11 billion in aid, but international donors need access to verify the needs."

He also said that Myanmar's Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Soe Tha, had told him that French oil giant Total was willing to transfer aid and equipment from French and US Navy ships waiting in waters near the former Burma. (Gulf Daily News)

U.N. chief: Focus for Myanmar turns to reconstruction

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Asian nations are beginning to focus on the reconstruction needs of Myanmar, devastated by Cyclone Nargis in early May, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday.

"Even as we attend to today's emergency, we must give thought to Myanmar's medium- and longer-term assistance," Ban said in Bangkok, where he will stay overnight before proceeding to Myanmar on Thursday.

Myanmar is expected to face a food crisis because the cyclone wiped out crops in the Irrawaddy Delta, the heartland for rice farming, and filled it with salt water, imperiling future crops.

Thailand has pledged to provide rice, feed and farming equipment to its neighbor.

An international donors conference is scheduled Sunday in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, mainly to discuss the country's future.

Ban, who arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday, called the aftermath of the cyclone "a critical moment" for Myanmar.

"The government itself acknowledges there has never been a disaster on this scale in the history of their country," he said.

The storm claimed more than 130,000 lives and left more than 2 million homeless, according to the United Nations.

Ban plans to tour the devastated Irrawaddy Delta in southern Myanmar on Thursday. The coastline of the Andaman Sea was especially hard-hit, and aid workers have reported that bodies still line the shore in some spots.

The United Nations leader said he will meet with Senior Gen. Than Shwe, leader of the junta that rules the country, formerly known as Burma.

Ban will return to Bangkok to meet Friday evening with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Thailand is the first country that persuaded the junta to allow medical teams into the country.

The teams are now stationed in the delta city of Myaungmya, Ban said. CNN news teams said they have seen trucks full of people arriving at refugee shelters there.

Myanmar's leaders have been slow to accept foreign aid and prevented foreign agencies from doing a needs assessment after the storm. The government also insisted that any aid that came in be distributed by its soldiers and volunteers, which went against the policy of many agencies.

Ban said Thai doctors in Myanmar have seen no sign of an epidemic. An outbreak of disease was feared after the cyclone hit. (oooooh the blind were sent to provide assistance)

UN chief urges Burma to focus on saving lives

Ian MacKinnon,

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, prepared to head for Burma today, and urged the regime to focus on saving lives, rather than on politics, saying only a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis had so far received aid.

On a stopover in Bangkok, Ban said: "We must do our utmost for the people of [Burma]. The issues of assistance and aid should not be politicised. Our focus now is on saving lives."

The UN secretary general is due tomorrow to meet the Burmese leader, General Than Shwe, in the capital, Naypidaw, after inspecting the devastation in the Irrawaddy delta where most of the 128,000 people were killed following the arrival of Nargis 19 days ago.

Ban will press the reclusive leader for more flexibility in allowing greater amounts of international relief and accommodating disaster management specialists who have the expertise to cope with the complexity of the rescue.

Burma's suspicious regime has opened up slightly, agreeing to allow the UN World Food Programme to bring in 10 helicopters able to swiftly distribute food and medical supplies to parts of the delta still cut off by flooding and broken bridges. But reflecting the authorities' lingering distrust, officials shunned a proposal from the US that three American warships stationed off the coast delivered aid and medical help. Five US C-130 military transports have been flying in supplies daily for more than a week, but Burma said the ships and onboard helicopters could not join the relief effort.

The newspaper New Light of Myanmar, the junta's mouthpiece, said yesterday the US offer came "with strings attached" that were "not acceptable to the people".


Working visit of H.E. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary – General of ASEAN to Yangon

"ASEAN SG Welcomes Firm Support of PM of Myanmar for the ASEAN-led Approach"

As mandated by ASEAN Foreign Ministers, and at the invitation from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, H.E. Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, visited Yangon on 20-21 May 2008 to formally and personally deliver and follow up on the decisions made at the Special Meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Singapore on 19 May 2008.

Dr Surin stressed that his mission to Yangon was necessary for ASEAN to take the lead in coordinating and liaising with the UN system and international community in assisting Myanmar to recover from Cyclone Nargis. It is also meant to ensure all parties concerned that this ASEAN-led initiative is acknowledged, accepted, endorsed, and supported fully by all levels of the Government of Myanmar.

Dr. Surin expressed his gratitude to the Government of Myanmar for its hospitality and for the opportunity to pay a courtesy call on H.E. General Thien Sein, Prime Minister of the Union of Myanmar on 21 May 2008.

Dr. Surin thanked the Prime Minister of Myanmar for his reiteration of his keen interest in and support for the ASEAN-led mechanism, as well as for the strong commitment of the Government of Myanmar to work closely with the Task Force of the ASEAN-led mechanism, which is headed by the Secretary-General of ASEAN.

During the 45-minute courtesy call, Dr. Surin informed H.E. General Thien Sein in details the key steps that shall be undertaken in implementing the decisions made at the Special Meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers. He stressed that the expeditious execution of these steps would create an atmosphere of mutual confidence among all parties concerned. This will ensure the success of the tremendous tasks at hand, including the upcoming ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon on 25 May 2008, and the rehabilitation, resettlement, and reconstruction that will follow.

Dr. Surin also expressed his sincere condolences and conveyed the sympathy of all ASEAN Member States and their peoples to the Prime Minister of Myanmar, the Government of Myanmar and its people for the tragic losses in this cyclone disaster, particularly in the Ayeyawady delta.

Relief Web

Myanmar kicks cyclone survivors out of shelters to make space for polling stations

YANGON, Myanmar (AP-IHT): With few places to seek refuge, the wooden schoolhouse seemed as good as anywhere.

Though its roof was partially blown off by Cyclone Nargis, and panels were ripped from its walls, hundreds of people swarmed here after the storm.

Now the government has forced them out to make space for a weekend vote on a new pro-military constitution — a referendum delayed in parts of Myanmar because of the deadly cyclone.

"The school will be used as a polling station," said Sandar, a teacher who refused to give her last name. "We needed people to leave."

"Most of them set up temporary bamboo huts," Sandar said Wednesday. Like most people in Myanmar, she did not want to be fully identified because the government dislikes people talking to the media.

As many as 2 million people are struggling to find the basic necessities of life following the May 2-3 storm, sleeping in tents near their shattered homes or crowding into monasteries, schools and other de facto relief shelters.

But many are being displaced again to make way for polling stations needed to hold a referendum that is — by official reckoning — already a done deal.

The government will open polls in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta and Yangon areas on Saturday. The rest of the country voted May 10; state radio said the late balloting could not reverse the constitution's approval by 92.4 percent of the 22 million eligible voters.

In a big pavilion — a flat expanse of concrete under a green sheet roof — also on the outskirts of Yangon, dozens of homeless were packing up.

About 100 old people and children put their stuffed canvas sacks and bags on the benches in the middle of the hall. Some people sat on the floor. Others were out on the road, waiting.

A half hour later, they were gone.

A green banner was being put up in front by men, apparently security personnel in plainclothes, along with polling tables inside.

U.N. chief flies to Myanmar to press aid case

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon flew to Myanmar on Thursday to press the ruling generals to allow a full-blown international aid effort for 2.4 million people left destitute by Cyclone Nargis.

The U.N. Secretary-General said relief workers had so far been able to reach only a quarter of those in need after the May 2 storm and sea surge that left nearly 134,000 dead or missing.

"We must do our utmost for the people of Myanmar," Ban said when he arrived in the Thai capital, Bangkok, on Wednesday before traveling to Myanmar. "Aid in Myanmar should not be politicized. Our focus now is on saving lives."

The United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, are to convene a donors' pledging conference in Yangon on Sunday.

The government wants more than $11 billion in aid, but international donors need access to verify the needs, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told Reuters in an interview.

"Accessibility is important to guarantee confidence and verify the damage and needs, otherwise confidence during pledging will be affected," Surin said on a visit to Yangon.

Ban was due to meet Myanmar ministers involved in the relief effort before flying to the delta later on Thursday.

The U.N. chief will meet junta leader Than Shwe in Naypyidaw, a new capital 250 miles north of Yangon, on Friday.

Than Shwe, who took two weeks after the disaster to meet victims and see the destruction for himself, had declined to take Ban's phone calls earlier in the relief effort.

Bangkok-based political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak said expectations from Ban's trip will be fairly low. "He is arriving on the scene very late in the equation where many lives have been lost unnecessarily in the interim."

However, Yangon diplomats say the general's appearances in public this week, visiting several delta towns, could be a sign the top brass finally realize the enormity of the destruction and recovery from one of the worst cyclones to hit Asia.


The first of nine helicopters granted permission to airlift supplies into the delta was due to arrive in Yangon on Thursday, the World Food Programme said.

The United Nations says up to 2.4 million people are struggling to survive in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta, where refugees have been begging for food from relief workers.

Permission for the WFP helicopters is one sign the junta is starting to make small but -- in the case of one of the world's most closed countries -- unprecedented concessions to foreign governments and relief agencies wanting to help.

But a commentary in the junta's main voice, the New Light of Myanmar, said on Wednesday that "strings attached to the relief supplies carried by warships and military helicopters are not acceptable to the Myanmar people. We can manage by ourselves."

European Union lawmakers kept up pressure on Myanmar's military, which has ruled the former Burma for 46 years.

The European Parliament, which has no legal power over the bloc's foreign policies but can help shape opinion in the bloc, will vote on a resolution on Thursday urging the U.N. Security Council to consider whether forced aid shipments were possible.

"The Burmese authorities are responsible for a crime against humanity," Polish EU lawmaker Urszula Gacek said.

The generals' distrust of outsiders is even greater after worldwide outrage at last year's crackdown on democracy protests. U.N. sources say they have consistently declined offers of Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean military helicopters.

The government's official toll is 77,738 people killed and 55,917 missing, and it also estimates the damage to one of Asia's least-developed economies at $10 billion.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington, Laura MacInnis in Geneva and Ingrid Melander in Strasbourg; Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

(For more stories on Myanmar cyclone click on or follow the link to Reuters AlertNet