Saturday, 14 June 2008

Transporting goods on two wheelers in Bhamo at great risk

A Bhamo resident was carring teak to the China border near Joi Je in Kachin State, Northern Burma.

Kachin News - Residents around Bhamo town transport Chinese made goods on their motorcycles through Loi Je city close to the Sino-Burma border to Bhamo, said a local in Bhamo.

A Bhamo resident was carring teak to the China border near Joi Je in Kachin State, Northern Burma.

“There are many risks. People carry Chinese made motor engines, food and clothes on their motorcycles along the rugged jungle terrain,” said a local.

According to residents, a Kachin transporting goods died recently on his way back to Bhamo from Loi Je after being hit by a big truck. In another instance goods being carried by three men from lower Burma were seized on the way by Burmese junta authorities.

Carriers also transport timber and sometimes face dangerous situations on the jungle route even though they get paid little for their effort. Sometimes they receive only kyat 10,000 (US $ 9) and sometimes 40,000 (US $ 36), a resident added.

Burmese Army confiscates cattle in the name of cyclone funds

Kachin News, 14 June 2008 - An artillery battalion of the Burmese army confiscated a herd of cattle from local merchants in the name of collecting funds for the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy Delta in Kachin State in Northern Burma, local sources said.

A herd of 27 cattle were being driven through the Chinese border in Kachin State for sale on May 28, 2008. The cattle owners were stopped near the Mogaung River and the herd was seized by second warrant officer Myint Thein of the No. 372 Artillery Battalion led by Major Ye Yint Twe, sources close to the merchants said.

The cattle were owned by three cattle merchants in Namma city --- Maung Shwe, Shan Ko and Thet Oo and they were driving the herd themselves, when the incident occurred, sources said.

The current price for 27 cattle is over 10 million Kyat (over US $ 8,889), a businessman in Myitkyina told KNG today.

In the hope of getting petty cash as compensation for the cattle confiscation, the owners appealed twice to Burmese junta's Northern Command Headquarters in Myitkyina Township, the capital of Kachin State. However, the military officials reasoned that "the cattle were confiscated for the fund for cyclone victims," sources said.

According to merchants in Sarhmaw (Samaw) city on the Myitkyina-Mandalay railway division, city-based Burmese Army's No. 105 Infantry Battalion (Kha La Ya) also confiscated cattle more than twice from local merchants. But interestingly the seizure was made before the cyclone hit Irrawaddy Delta.

Local cattle merchants have to bribe officers in the Burmese Army bases and regional military authorities to sell cattle near the Chinese border in eastern Kachin State, local merchants said.

Currently, rumours are doing the rounds in Kachin State that the military authorities are embezzling the funds collected in the name of cyclone victims, the residents said.

Mon News - 12-13 Jun'08

Major and two soldiers of MRP killed, guns seized

Two Burmese soldiers killed in TPP barrack

Gambling common in Burma

Police take valuables off bodies of cyclone victims in Mon state

DVB News 11-13 June'08

Labutta families commemorate cyclone victims

Bogalay schools told to reopen despite setbacks

Farmers charged admin fees to receive loans

Junta lays out guidelines for relief workers

Daw Suu awarded the freedom of Dundee

USDA joins cyclone efforts to boost image

NLD members made to sign agreement

Dalai Lama donates money for cyclone victims

Local troops evict cyclone victims in Bogalay

Commentary: Constitution and the role of citizens

Remote villagers lacking proper medical treatment - 11th

Mogok ruby city landslide kills 22, eight missing

Heavy rain caused landslide in Mogok, the land of ruby in Burma which killed at least 22 and missing 8 people this morning.

Mizzima-New Delhi: Incessant heavy rain since early morning of Thursday triggered landslides in Burma's ruby city killing 22 people. Eight people are missing, according to residents.

The heavy downpour started in the wee hours of 1 a.m. yesterday and over flowing water smashed the water bunker along the Yayni creek flooding the city which is known to produce the finest rubies, about 400 miles north or Rangoon. Several houses were destroyed; roads were inundated while landslides were triggered in some places.

Twenty two people were hospitalized, said a medical staff from Mogok Hospital on condition of anonymity. The eastern part of the town such as Laypay, Taungni, Thephyuwine, Ohnkine, Laioo quarters are the worst effected.

A resident who is helping in relief and rescue operations said eight people are still missing. The downpour continues in the land of the ruby and residents and volunteers recalled bitter experiences of landslides in the past.

The New Light of Myanmar, the official mouthpiece published a brief news on the disaster without even a mention of the death toll and destruction.

The ground where people gather to sell rubies and gems is strewn with debris. Residents said it will take time for things to normalise.

Floods are not unusual in Mogok town, which is prohibited for foreigners without special permission from the junta. The last flood occurred in August last year.

Well-informed residents complained of massive environmental damage due to mechanized gem mining by business companies.

"Gem miners are using machines which throw out all residuals into Yayni creek which causes floods easily. Despite building bunkers along the creek more and more debris from the mines are being heaped," a school teacher told Mizzima.

Cyclone Nargis hits Burmese economy


13 June 2008, Chiang Mai – Economists and merchants feel that devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis will slow down Burma's economy.

The cyclone caused unprecedented damage in major rice and fishery producing Irrawaddy Division and Rangoon the economic hub of the country, resulting in Burma's economy being severely affected.

"The monsoons and the stagnating economy marks a drastic fall in demand. Farmland and roads are severely damaged. The most important factor is the soaring price of staple food, rice. These affect the demand side. This is the season for growing and planting rice, banana, and tapioca in lower Burma. But the farmers cannot grow these crops as their fields and even the ponds are inundated with saline water," Rangoon based economist U Khin Maung Nyo told Mizzima.

Soaring commodity prices and economic stagnation are usual phenomena of disasters or drastic and sudden change of situation in a country, U Khin Maung Nyo said. There will be fall and rise in prices as the situation is exploited by the merchants at such times," he added.

The price of rice rose by over 15% in Rangoon. 'Pawsanhmwe' rice rose from Kyat 36,000 per bag (about 110 lbs) to 42,000, 'Zeyar' rice rose from Kyat 24,000 per bag to 28,000. Even the wet rice, which were damaged rice with the colour turned yellow fetches Kyat 17,000 per bag.

The price of cooking oil rose by over 40%, from Kyat. 4,200 per viss (approximately 1.5 Kg) to 4,700.

Fuel price also rose by over 30% from Kyat 4,500 to 6,000 per gallon of petrol while diesel rose from Kyat 4,200 per gallon to Kyat 4,700.

A leading merchant of the 'Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry' (MCCI) conceded that Burma's economy is on a downward slide.

"The cyclone made the sale sluggish. A lot of money has to be spent on relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation. The cyclone left about 2.5 million people homeless. We have to arrange all the necessary things for the survivors, food, clothing and shelter. It has hit the economy hard," he said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by the authorities.

The downfall of the economy affects everybody, both in retail and wholesale trade and also odd job workers according to economists.

The brokerage firms (wholesale trade) in Theinzaygyi vegetable market are getting only Kyat 30-40,000, compared to the previous usual sale of Kyat 200-300,000 per day, according to the 'MYO Family' vegetable brokerage firm.

"Business is not good these days. We rely on our customers from rural areas. They have suffered a lot in the cyclone and it hit our business hard. A few customers come and buy from our firms these days. The business was brisk earlier. Rural people cannot buy when they are in trouble," a shop owner said.

All the vegetables in this market come mainly from townships in Irrawaddy Division, mainly Labutta, Bogale and Pathein.

"The number of customers has gone down drastically. Sometimes only one or two come and buy. We do not know what to do next. Yesterday someone came and supplied readymade Rakhine Vermicelli but I did not buy as the sale is sluggish these days. The clothing and apparel shops are worst-hit. Many shop owners want to sell their shops as the sale is sluggish," a grocer from Hledan market said.

Apart from soaring essential commodity prices, most of the ordinary people cannot make ends meet with their meagre income. They have to save while shopping for food as they want to donate some money for the cyclone survivors, a housewife from Rangoon said.

"We cannot make both ends meet with our small income. We have to pay tuition fees and admission fees in schools. My daughters are government employees and can barely survive. We have stopped buying fish, pork and chicken after the cyclone. Many people have tried to donate for the cyclone victims as much as they could. We must share what we have with those who have lost everything in the cyclone," the housewife from Rangoon said.

"There are many sale and sale promotions in this monsoon season. But the customers cannot buy because they have to buy essential commodities first with their small income. So they must desist from buying unnecessary goods. Government employees and poor people have to suffer more. They cannot buy most goods," a housewife in Tamwe Township said.

The school uniform and stationery shop in Latha Township also had poor sales figures. Sales fell by 50% in the school re-opening season. This shop usually does brisk sale in this season.

"We must take some time to recover from the economic stagnation and sluggishness. This is some sort of recession. We must take give at least six months. We cannot expect foreign aid to help us recover from the current situation. We need good economic management and good leadership to recover from the current crisis. We must rely on ourselves. The economy will improve a little bit when we have such a leadership and management," U Khin Maung Nyo said.

Junta close down relief camps

Bangkok (IOL)- Foreign doctors have started leaving cyclone-hit Myanmar as the junta has closed down many relief camps in the affected areas, a senior Thai health ministry official said on Friday.

The military government had told Thailand not to send a third batch of medics, meant to leave for Yangon on Monday, as most of the camps in the Irrawaddy delta town of Myaungmya had been closed, Surachet Satitniramai, a co-ordinator for the Thai team, said.

"Doctors from India, Japan and the Philippines have already left Myanmar as many camps have been closed down," he said, adding that the only doctors left at the few camps remaining in the area were all Myanmar locals.

"They said they had enough doctors to deal with the situation now and will call out for help if they need more," he said.

Cyclone Nargis hit the densely populated delta in May, killing up to 134 000 people and leaving 2,4 million destitute. Despite the magnitude of the disaster, the junta has been reluctant to admit outside aid operations.

The United Nations called Myanmar's neighbours in south-east Asia and other donors to give more than one million gallons of emergency diesel supplies to help farmers in the devastated delta replant rice crops before the end of July.

"The window of opportunity is very short, and the need is of the utmost urgency," UN official Noeleen Heyzer said.

"The planting season in the Delta is June to July, after which it will be too late - with disastrous consequences for food security in Myanmar and the region."

(Reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Ed Cropley)

Politics Drives Crisis Response in Asia

By Gary Thomas
Washington - VOA

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On May 2, Cyclone Nargis ripped across Burma, killing more than 78-thousand people. Ten days later, a massive earthquake shook China's Sichuan province, killing at least 69-thousand people. Beijing has been open about the quake, quickly responding and allowing wide domestic and foreign media coverage. But Rangoon's generals have restricted relief efforts and news about the cyclone. What are the international and domestic political ramifications of the two disasters?

The cyclone winds have passed and the earthquake aftershocks are subsiding. But analysts say political reverberations from the twin disasters in Burma and China will be felt for some time.

Richard Olson at Florida International University has researched the intersection of natural disasters and politics, and says a government's legitimacy -- both domestically and on the world stage -- can hinge on how it responds to a disaster.

"Disasters pose political problems for every regime and for every government because, fairly or unfairly, people -- victims, people who feel empathy with the victims -- expect the government to lead the response, to coordinate the response, to, in a sense, act like an accountable entity and to help people in need. It's one of the primordial functions of the state," says Olson.

The China-Burma Difference

China, which treated previous disasters as if they were state secrets, moved quickly to send in relief and rescue teams. And reporters -- including Western journalists -- extensively covered the disaster. In stark contrast, Burma, also known as Myanmar, has barred most media and foreign aid workers from the country, and accepted only a tiny fraction of the disaster relief offered by the international community. Most of the supplies that have arrived have been seized by the government, which insists on distributing the aid itself.

Robert Hunter, a senior advisor at the RAND Corporation here in Washington, says, "The Chinese government has responded with alacrity, doing an awful lot of things and even welcoming help from outside. This is a far cry from what the Chinese would have done back during the Mao [Zedong] period. Burma, by contrast, is demonstrating that the leadership has little or no concern for the people of Myanmar themselves."

Most analysts say China gained some political "points" from its handling of the disaster. They say Beijing was already suffering from bad publicity for its handling of recent demonstrations in Tibet and that it did not want another public relations black mark before the upcoming Olympic Games. However, recent reports indicate that the government is now cracking down on some of the earthquake journalism by banning stories on issues such as corruption and shoddy school construction in the earthquake zone.

Robert Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, says that in contrast, Burma does not seem to care what the world thinks.

"This is a society that has never been that engaged in the outside world. It had a colonial past that they don't seem to be able to surmount. And, remarkably -- and this, I think, is not only tragic, but I would say it's almost criminal -- the leadership there is more concerned with its own prerogatives and its own prerequisites than it is about the simple human question of people in their country who are hurting very badly," says Hunter.

Political scientist Richard Olson says most governments' initial reluctance to accept outside help soon fades when they realize that they are unable to handle the disaster. "The initial idea is, 'Oh, we can do a good job and take credit and receive public points for a good disaster response.' And then about two or three days later, it becomes obvious that they really don't have the capabilities to do that. And then the negative sets in -- high expectations, relatively low performance. And they start losing public points," says Olson.

The Broader View

The international humanitarian impulse to help people in need is strong. But as analyst Robert Hunter points out, countries that donate aid out of the goodness of their hearts often win some hearts and minds as well, as the United States did with its earthquake aid to Pakistan in 2005. "Oh, I don't think that there's any question that we've known for a long time now that it's not just doing good, but it's doing well at the same time -- that governments that have compassion also gain politically from it. And I'm glad to say that in the United States, we have had governments that almost always show compassion, and tend to gain in the court of world public opinion for that," says Hunter.

Richard Olson notes that governments that are slow to respond to disasters can suffer politically when opposition political parties or groups step into the breach to help. "There are a number of examples where political parties or movements have taken advantage of -- that's not really the right term -- but there's a window of opportunity for them to demonstrate efficiency and capability and compassion and, in a way, compete with the government by getting into a disaster-stricken area with meaningful assistance," says Olson.

Suffering Vs. Sovereignty

The Burmese government's refusal to allow most aid or aid workers to reach areas hit by the cyclone has fueled the debate over whether states or the United Nations should intervene in a country to prevent a humanitarian crisis when its government will not or cannot act.

Robert Hunter of the RAND Corporation says there may be circumstances when suffering outweighs sovereignty. "The old rules simply won't work if there are leaderships who insist on putting their own narrow -- what they believe to be self-interests -- ahead of the very basic requirements of human existence and human dignity," says Hunter.

But the question of humanitarian intervention is a very sensitive one. Although intervention may have the lofty motive of saving civilian lives, analysts say many governments, especially authoritarian ones, view such measures as unwarranted interference in their internal affairs.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

UN official warns of 'disastrous consequences' for food in Myanmar

Straits Times

YANGON (Myanmar) - MYANMAR is in urgent need of diesel fuel to make sure that tilling machines - brought in to replace water buffalos killed by Cyclone Nargis - can be used to help plant rice in the storm-devastated Irrawaddy delta, a senior United Nations official said.

'The window of opportunity is very short, and the need is of the utmost urgency,' Ms Noeleen Heyzer, UN under-secretary-general, said on Friday. 'The planting season in the delta is June to July, after which it will be too late, with disastrous consequences for food security in Myanmar and the region.'

Meanwhile, in a clear reference to the United States, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece for the ruling junta, warned that 'the goodwill of a big Western nation that wants to help Myanmar with its warships was not genuine'.

Myanmar turned down humanitarian aid from naval vessels from the United States, as well as Great Britain and France, that had sailed towards the South-east Asian nation after Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2-3.

The newspaper said aid from nations who impose economic sanctions against Myanmar and push the UN Security Council to take actions against it 'comes with strings attached'. The United States is one of several Western nations that impose economic and political sanctions on the junta because of its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

Tens of millions of dollars have been donated to help Myanmar's cyclone victims, but the junta has been reluctant to accept foreign relief experts in large numbers, and has restricted their access to the hard-hit delta area.

The UN estimates more than 1 million survivors, mostly in the delta, still need help more than five weeks after the cyclone struck. Cyclone Nargis killed more than 78,000 people and left another 56,000 people missing, according to the government.

Ms Heyzer, meanwhile, called for Myanmar's South-east Asian neighbours, foreign aid donors and traditional oil suppliers to assist the country by helping supply it with 3.8 million litres of diesel.

Myanmar told Ms Heyzer earlier this week the fuel was needed to operate some 5,000 tillers donated to plant rice in time for the next growing season, starting in June and July.

The United States Department of Agriculture said in an assessment issued earlier this week the area affected by the cyclone 'normally accounts for roughly 60 per cent of (Myanmar's) rice production'.

'The outlook for the 2008/09 rice crop is very uncertain, as the planting window will close in late July. Little to no actual progress has been made to restore or rehabilitate damaged lands and infrastructure, while farmers are yet to be supplied with sufficient food, viable seed, tools, livestock or replacement mechanical tillers and fuel,' it said. -- AP

Savage paranoia

Chicago Tribune

Cyclone Nargis, which hit the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar more than a month ago, has, by official count, claimed 78,000 lives. Another 56,000 people are missing and as many as 2.4 million desperately need basic humanitarian aid—food, clean drinking water and shelter.

The country's repressive ruling junta, however, doesn't see it that way. The New Light of Myanmar, the state-run newspaper that serves as a mouthpiece for the ruling generals, called the Western media "the enemy who is more destructive than Nargis." The Western media, a recent article claimed, have sensationalized their reporting and exaggerated the suffering of the storm's victims, all in an attempt to "undermine national unity."

What amazing paranoia. And if it were limited to bleating from The New Light, everyone could laugh. But Myanmar's rulers have turned away repeated offers of foreign aid. The xenophobic generals would rather let their people starve than risk allowing outsiders in to help.

Now, they're clamping down on efforts by their own people. Popular comedian and political critic Maung Thura, better known by his stage name Zarganar, was recently taken from his Yangon home by police. His apparent crime? Traveling to the Irrawaddy delta to deliver relief supplies to the victims of Nargis. The military junta is trying to stop the people of Myanmar from helping the people of Myanmar.

It has accused citizens who have shot video of the deplorable conditions in the delta of being "self-seekers exploiting storm victims." It insists, all evidence to the contrary, that conditions in the Irrawaddy delta are better than reported.

In his masterpiece "1984," British author George Orwell described a society where reality was wholly subjective, created by a government propaganda machine known as the "Ministry of Truth." If citizens didn't hew to the government's totalitarian line, they were subject to arrest, torture and re-education. The government's sole purpose: to perpetuate its own existence. Orwell's book was a work of fiction intended as a criticism of totalitarian government.

Today it could double as the Myanmar junta's manual of governance.