Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Over 70 cars impounded after distribution of relief material

Phanida - Mizzima News

27 May 2008 - About 70 vehicles were impounded on Sunday when they returned from the Irrawaddy Delta after donating relief material to cyclone victims.

The police force led by Police Maj. U Luu Win seized the cars at the entrance of Panhlaing Bridge on their way back to Rangoon. The exercise was on the whole of Sunday evening.

"There were about 50 cars lined up on the bridge. The cars were seized at about 8 p.m. yesterday. There were about 22 cars in the Government Technical College (GTC) campus. The car owners were summoned to the police department but their cars have not yet been returned," the in-charge of NLD Youth Information Department said.

The police said that the cars were seized for flouting the law. All these cars need to take permission from local authorities of the Township Peace and Development Council (PDC) of Dallah, Twante, Kunchankong, Kawhmu and Dadeye for making trips for donation to the cyclone victims. The police said that they had already announced on May 8 for donors not to throw relief supplies to cyclone victims lining the highway. This would weaken the victims and not allow them to be back on their feet.

"The authorities said that donating to victims is not a problem, but throwing the relief material on the road created a lot of problems. It would have a negative impact and jeopardize the government's relief efforts, they said. The victims are now objecting to the government's plan to house them in government relief centres, the authorities complained," Ko Zarganar (Tweezers), the renowned comedian into relief operations said.

The impounded cars are being kept in the GTC campus and car owners have been told to come back today. The policemen who are seizing the cars are from Kyaikkasan Interrogation Centre, U Kyaw Thu, actor and a leader of free funeral service, said.

"Many said that the cars were impounded by both the police and the army from Kyaikkasan Interrogation Centre. Last night about 100 cars were detained. Private donors with two Toyota Hilux pickups were arrested last night. But the donors were released late at night and but the cars are in police custody," U Kyaw Thu said.

"Impounding vehicles of Burmese people who are helping their fellow Burmese is not done Today they warned us and made a fuss about traffic rules and checked our cars to see if the lamps and indicators are working," he said.

The authorities have continued restrictions and arrests by stopping many cars going to the Delta in Dadeye and Maubin checkposts. Private donors had to leave their cars with a person to guard it and the goods. They had to come back from these check posts, Daw Myint Myint Mu, a member of 'Human Rights Defender and Promoters Network (HRDP) said.

The riot police was deployed today at the entrance of Panhlaing Bridge.

UN Chief Sees Myanmar Cooperation on Survivors

UN secretary-general: 'The Myanmar Government Appears to be Moving Toward the Right Direction'
By EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press Writer


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday (27 May) that some foreign aid workers have gone into Myanmar's cyclone-ravaged delta without problems, reflecting a "new spirit of cooperation" by the ruling junta.

Ban flew to Myanmar last week and received promises from the country's ruling generals to allow international relief workers and international aid into the Irrawaddy Delta by helicopters, trucks and boats. Since the devastating cyclone early this month, all but a few international workers had been barred from the hardest-hit delta, the country's all-important rice bowl.

"The Myanmar government appears to be moving toward the right direction, to implement these accords," Ban told reporters a day after returning to New York. "Some international aid workers and NGOs have already gone into the regions of the Irrawaddy Delta, without any problem. I hope — and I believe — that this marks a new spirit of cooperation between Myanmar and the international community."

But the secretary-general stressed that more needs to be done, and full implementation of the agreement he reached with Myanmar's military ruler, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, "will be the key."

"I will be fully, continuously and personally engaged," he said. "I look forward to returning, before too long, to see for myself the progress we have made."

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters earlier that a significant number of visas are now being granted to international aid workers to help cyclone survivors.

The United Nations hasn't seen "any blockages yet" in the granting of visas, he said, adding "it's a much freer position than it was a week ago."

When he left New York in mid-May to go to Myanmar, Holmes said about 40 visas had been granted to international relief workers but now "I think we're well over double that, and that number's increasing regularly."

"Clearly, the critical question is how may people have we not reached and what sort of condition are they in. Unfortunately, we cannot give a very clear answer to that," he said.

Holmes said the U.N. believes that just over 1 million of the 2.4 million people severely affected by the cyclone have received some kind of aid from U.N. agencies, national and international NGOs or the Myanmar Red Cross.

What the U.N. doesn't have a clear picture of is how many people have been helped through the national relief effort and bilateral assistance given directly to Myanmar, he said.

"It's reasonable to assume you should add several hundred thousand more — maybe even a million more," but there could be a big overlap with the people in the U.N. estimate, he said.

In Geneva, Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs which Holmes heads, said most assistance has gone to people living in the Yangon area, because the delta has hundreds of rivers and small islands, some which can only be reached by inflatable boats.

Cyclone Nargis killed at least 78,000 people and left 56,000 more missing.

Holmes said now the international community has to deliver on the ground.

Since the crisis began, 160 flights have arrived with aid, at a rate of 10-15 a day, but more relief goods are needed which should be coming by road from Thailand and by boat as well. In addition, the U.N. World Food Program is buying rice on the local market.

The French warship Mistral Wednesday landed on the resort island of Phuket, Thailand, to unload some 1,000 tons of humanitarian supplies for shipment by the United Nations to Myanmar.

The regime has forbidden direct aid by warships of France, the United States and Great Britain which have been standing by off the Myanmar coast to deliver the assistance.

Myanmar's state media has voiced fears of a U.S. invasion to grab the country's oil reserves.

Logistical hubs have been set up at five of the main townships slightly north of the worst affected area in the Irrawaddy Delta where relief goods can be kept in warehouses for distribution by small and large boats, Holmes said.

As for the financial side of the relief effort, Holmes said the U.N. financial tracking service reports that $133 million has already been contributed in one way or another, and a further $100 million pledged. (ABC News)

Donors detained after aid distribution (on Sunday 25 May)

Conditions ripe for disease in Myanmar delta

DEDAYE, Myanmar -- Myint Hlaing's family bathes and draws cooking water from an irrigation ditch fouled by human waste and a rotting cow carcass. His 10-year-old daughter suffers from diarrhea, despite drinking bottled water donated by aid groups.

They are among hundreds of cyclone survivors in this town forced to endure daily rains beneath tattered thatch huts and use whatever water they can find _ a recipe for disease in Myanmar's low-lying delta as the monsoon season nears.

"Shelter is the most important thing we need," Myint Hlaing said. "There are more and more mosquitoes here. We are afraid of getting dengue fever."

The country's ruling junta has insisted that health conditions are normal in the Irrawaddy delta pounded more than three weeks ago by the killer storm. But relief group Church World Service has reported finding elderly and child survivors dying from dysentery in some areas because many have no choice but to drink dirty water. Other organizations have detected a number of ailments including pneumonia, malaria, cholera and diarrhea.

Save the Children UK has warned that some 30,000 children in the delta were severely malnourished before Cyclone Nargis struck, with thousands facing starvation in the next two or three weeks. The monsoon season, which begins next month, adds yet another challenge.

"The rain is a real problem," Eric Stover, lead author of a critical report published last year about Myanmar's broken health system, told The Associated Press after visiting the delta. "The water is rising up, and the latrines are just outside (flowing) into the water, and there's livestock around. That's the perfect breeding ground for diarrhea and cholera."

Stover, a professor from the school of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, managed to slip past military checkpoints twice to get a glimpse of the devastation. He was unable to assess the health situation in villages, but said conditions are ripe for outbreaks.

"It's as bad as we all think it is, there's no question about that," he said. "I think for public health people and for U.N. personnel the frustrating thing is that they can't see it."

UNICEF has been canvassing the area and has reported a growing number of diarrhea cases _ up to 30 percent of young children in one township. Myanmar's Ministry of Health has started vaccinating some children in camps against measles, another big threat.

The World Health Organization says it still doesn't have a clear medical picture because tight government restrictions have kept the delta off-limits to its foreign experts. Remote villages accessed only by boat remain the biggest question mark because many still have not been reached more than three weeks after the storm.

"We have no hard numbers," said Maureen Birmingham, a WHO epidemiologist in Thailand. "We continue to remain concerned because it's a high-risk situation for diarrheal disease, malaria and dengue."

Myanmar's xenophobic government has worked hard to keep foreign aid agencies from visiting the delta since the May 2-3 storm belted the region, killing some 78,000 people and leaving 56,000 others missing. It has not reported any disease outbreaks.

The regime has said it is able to handle relief efforts on its own, but its ruling general assured visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that all international aid agencies would be allowed in to help. It remained unclear Monday how many foreigners would be permitted to travel beyond Yangon, the country's largest city.

Access to regular supplies of safe drinking water and proper sanitation is essential for preventing waterborne diseases like cholera, which spreads rapidly through water contaminated with feces. Malaria and dengue fever outbreaks also will be a major concern in the coming weeks after mosquitoes have time to breed in the stagnant water that flooded the delta.

Myanmar was plagued by malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and other big killers before the disaster, in a country where one in three children is estimated to be malnourished. About 3 percent of the annual budget is spent on health, compared to 40 percent on the military, according to Stover's report.

In 2000, the WHO ranked Myanmar's health system as the world's second-worst, ahead only of war-ravaged Sierra Leone.


Associated Press medical writer Margie Mason contributed to this report from Bangkok, Thailand. Washington Post

When It Comes to Politics, Burmese Say, Government Is All Too Helpful

MEE LAUNG KWIN (NYT), Myanmar — As the fisherman sat mending cyclone-damaged nets in his riverside hut here on Saturday, he said he had not known it was the day he and other residents of the Irrawaddy Delta were supposed to vote on the new military-backed Constitution.

But the fisherman, 54, did remember that a village leader affiliated with the ruling junta told him and his neighbors a few days earlier that he had already marked ballots for them and sent them to the regional authorities.

“He said he made the right choice for us,” the fisherman said with a shrug. “So we said, ‘O.K., no objection.’ ” The fisherman’s name was not used because of the possibility of retaliation by the government.

In Yangon, more than 60 miles northeast of his delta village, an official at a government-run company said the 1,000 or so workers there had not voted either: the company marked ballots for them as well.

“This was my first chance to exercise my right to vote, but the government did it for us without our knowledge,” said the official, in his late 30s. “None of our staff dared say that we wanted to vote ourselves. This is standard in Myanmar.”

The same thing happened at the military-run company where his wife works, he said.

At least 135,000 people are dead or missing since a cyclone struck Myanmar, formerly Burma, on May 3, in the world’s biggest natural disaster since the Asian tsunami in 2004. For the junta that runs the country, however, politics has consistently trumped aid, local residents said and some government officials acknowledged.

On Tuesday, officials allowed foreign aid workers to travel to the hardest-hit areas of the Irrawaddy Delta for the first time. But the numbers reaching devastated coastal communities were still tiny — fewer than 20 by some estimates — suggesting that the government was still determined to keep an iron grip on the provision of aid.

The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million people who survived the cyclone are still struggling to find food and clean water and that the death toll could rise sharply unless supplies reach them soon. But the Burmese government claims that it can handle relief work by itself and that foreign nations should instead provide billions of dollars to help the junta rebuild the country later.

Over the weekend, military leaders pressed ahead with the vote on the new Constitution, which would prolong their rule by, among other things, allotting 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military.

Saturday’s referendum in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, and the Irrawaddy Delta, the regions most affected by the cyclone, took place after two weeks of delay. The rest of the country voted May 10, as scheduled, just a week after the storm. Even before the final round of balloting, state radio said that round could not reverse the Constitution’s approval because 92.48 percent of the 22 million eligible voters had already voted for it on May 10. In any case, The New Light of Myanmar, the state-run newspaper, reported Tuesday that voters in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta had affirmed the Constitution by an even more resounding 92.93 percent.

Critics said the referendum as a whole was a sham.

In the days before the Saturday referendum in Yangon, homeless cyclone victims taking shelter in schools and other public buildings were evicted to make room for polling places. In four delta villages visited Saturday, villagers gave the same answer: The government had voted for them; they did not even get to see the ballots.

“We are not interested in voting; we are starving for food,” said a villager at Zee Phyu Chaung, a delta hamlet where those interviewed were aware that Saturday was referendum day. “Our village leader voted for us two days in advance, and we don’t know how he voted.”

Such stories did not surprise the Yangon government official, who compared living in Myanmar to “living in a prison with a very big border.”

The man spoke in English during an interview arranged on the condition that his name and personal details not be disclosed for fear of government retribution for criticizing the junta to outside journalists.

Interviews with Burmese farmers and fishermen in the Irrawaddy Delta and with businessmen and officials revealed the frustration and quiet perseverance of people in this poor and politically repressive country.

The official and several businessmen in Yangon said the government’s attitude toward its people was best illustrated by the discrepancy between its swift and harsh reaction to a popular uprising led by Buddhist monks last September and its foot-dragging in aiding victims of Cyclone Nargis.

“You saw what happened in 1988 and last September,” the official said, referring to the junta’s bloody crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrators. “In other countries, if you stand up against the government, you may get tear gas. Here you get the bullet. I have a wife and a child to support. I can’t risk my life.”

When asked about his future, the official pulled on his cigarette and mentioned what other young, relatively well-educated Burmese call “voting by foot.”

“If you can’t fight it, if you can’t reform it, it leaves you with just one option: leaving this country and going abroad to find a decent job and give your child a better future,” he said.

That is not easy. As is the case with other officials, his passport is held by the government. If he wants to travel abroad, he must apply to have his passport returned, a process that he said takes two months, assuming it is successful, and requires a fair amount of bribes. “Otherwise, all government officials would emigrate,” he said. “We Burmese are born oppressed.”

The signs of that oppression are pervasive, even in the Internet cafes of Yangon, where young people in crowded rooms play computer games and exchange news and photos of the cyclone’s victims with friends overseas.

Employees are deft at helping customers bypass government firewalls to visit foreign Web sites. When a user logs out, the computer usually shows a notice reminding him to erase all his Internet download history, a bizarre snippet of life in a society where one Yangon businessman said “fear is a dominant motivator in everyday life.”

Myanmar Says Volunteers Free To Enter Cyclone-Hit Delta

YANGON (AFP)--Individual volunteers are free to travel into regions devastated by the cyclone to give donations to storm victims, Myanmar's tightly controlled state media said Wednesday.

"Donors may go right down to storm-hit areas of their choice," the official New Light of Myanmar proclaimed in a headline splashed across its front page.

"Everybody may make donations freely. Everybody may make donations to any person or any area," the government mouthpiece said.

"However, well-wishers are urged to avoid unsystematic donations and acts that may tarnish the image of the nation and its people," it added.

Authorities are prepared to help donors distribute their goods, the newspaper said, citing an order issued Tuesday by the regime's disaster management committee.

The order contradicted efforts by local officials to stem the flow of private donors, who have driven from Yangon and other towns to deliver aid to storm victims in the hardest-hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta.

Cyclone Nargis left more than 133,000 people dead or missing when it struck on May 2-3, with 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, shelter and medicine.

The United Nations says only about one million of them have received any international aid, but unknown numbers have been relying on private assistance from individual volunteers.

Thousands of people have lined the roads in the delta, hoping for handouts from passing cars.

Police in some areas have tried to shoo away the storm survivors, threatening to confiscate drivers' licenses of volunteers giving away food and clothing.

The announcement was the latest shift in official media, which in recent days have become more welcoming of aid from volunteers as well as UN agencies.

The newspaper on Tuesday also highlighted the work of the UN Development Program and the World Food Program, as well as charities like Doctors Without Borders.

For three weeks after the storm, official media had insisted that the military could handle all aid on its own.

But the regime has taken a softer tone since the visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a donor conference last weekend, which raised tens of millions of dollars in cyclone aid.

West dismayed over Suu Kyi detention

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Western governments lashed out at the extension of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest, but the outrage at Myanmar's military rulers was tempered by concern over disrupting aid flows to desperate cyclone victims.

The former Burma has been promised millions of dollars in Western aid after Cyclone Nargis, but this cut no ice with the generals regarding the opposition leader, who has been under house arrest or in prison for nearly 13 of the last 18 years.

Officials drove to Suu Kyi's lakeside Yangon home on Tuesday to read out an extension order in person, but it was unclear whether the extension was for six months or a year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who just returned to New York from a weeklong aid mission in Myanmar, expressed disappointment but refrained from sharp criticism.

"The sooner restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures are lifted, the sooner Myanmar will be able to move toward ... restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights," he said.

He added that his special envoy for Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, would raise the issue of Suu Kyi with the junta.

Western nations were more forthright.

U.S. President George W. Bush said he was "deeply troubled" by the extension and called for the more than 1,000 political prisoners in Myanmar to be freed. However, the State Department said it would not affect U.S. cyclone aid.

The 62-year-old Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a 1990 poll by a landslide only to be denied power by the military, which has ruled the impoverished country for 46 years.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said "a historic opportunity was missed to give a sign of reconciling political life in Myanmar at a time when national and social cohesion, and solidarity and dialogue are more needed than ever."


Few had expected Suu Kyi to be released, but the extension was a reminder of the ruling military's refusal to make any concessions on the domestic political front despite its grudging acceptance of foreign help after the May 2 cyclone.

Hours before the extension, police arrested 20 NLD members trying to march to Suu Kyi's home.

Three weeks after the cyclone's 120 mph (190 kph) winds and sea surge devastated the delta, the United Nations said it had raised roughly 60 percent of its initial $200 million target for aid for Myanmar and aid workers were getting more access.

"We've reached just over a million people with some kind of aid," U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes told reporters.

Junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe promised U.N. chief Ban last week that he would allow all legitimate foreign aid workers access to victims across the country.

Holmes said he did not know if all roadblocks had been removed, but the situation was better.

"There's still a lot of people out there who have received nothing or certainly not enough," he said.

In the delta, thousands of beggars line the roads, and droves of children shout "Just throw something!" at passing vehicles.

Witnesses say many villages have received no outside help, and the waterways of the former Burma's "rice bowl" remain littered with bloated and rotting animal carcasses and corpses.

Much of the blame for the aid delay rests with the junta, which has been reluctant to admit a large-scale international relief effort for fear that would loosen the grip on power the army has held since a 1962 coup.

Nonetheless, diplomats and aid agencies see some signs of a shift in the stance of the reclusive junta.

State-controlled media on Tuesday praised U.N. agencies for taking prompt action to provide relief supplies after the cyclone, which left 134,000 people dead or missing.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alex Richardson)

In Myanmar, grief and resignation

THAT KYAR (MYANMAR): One of Daw Then Khin's grandsons has gone insane. He wanders day and night through the fields looking for his wife and son, both swept away by the furious floodwaters that came with the cyclone.

For two days, a granddaughter, 14-year-old Mah Myint Myint Kyi, could not speak. All her immediate family died: Her parents and her 7-year-old twin brothers.

The eldest granddaughter of Then Khin, Daw Thit Khine, 31, who lost her husband and both her children, is haunted by the memory of her 2-year-old daughter. The child, Thwe Tar, clung to her mother's neck until the storm snatched her.

In all, Then Khin, 70, said, she lost 15 members of her family on May 3 when Cyclone Nargis swept through this village in an isolated and hard-hit part of the Irrawaddy delta.

Her losses and those of this village have been bad enough. No better has been the mere effort to survive. On a weekend when a French ship full of relief supplies was turned away by Myanmar's military dictatorship, no aid from international agencies had reached here. Very little had come from the government itself, which claims it needs no help to feed and heal, only billions of dollars to reconstruct.

"I don't expect anything from the government — I never have, and I don't now," Then Khin said. "I heard on the radio about foreign help on its way, but I haven't seen any in the past 20 days. It's the same as before, nothing changed."

As this remote area struggles to cope in the storm's aftermath, the only government help Then Khin received was a small packet of rice, which she won by the luck of the draw.

The village authorities came only once, with some rice, blankets and other relief from the central government. The supplies were distributed by lottery, because there was so little. And the rice packet was not enough for even one meal for the 20 surviving family members who now crowd her hut.

The village of That Kyar lies near Pyapon, a major delta trading town.

Unlike the cyclone victims who live near roads and receive help from private donors bringing supplies from the cities, the people in villages like That Kyar have mostly been left to fend for themselves.

Times of India

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