Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Gov’t Tightens Restrictions on Relief Efforts

The Irrawaddy News

As Burma’s state-run media urged private citizens to donate “cash and kind” to relief efforts in the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, donors say that the government is moving to tighten its control over private donations.

On Monday, The New Light of Myanmar, a junta mouthpiece, announced that donations could be made through the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Sub-committee of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee, as well as through authorities at the district and township levels.

Although the announcement did not state that donations had to be made through these channels, sources actively involved in relief efforts say that the junta’s invitation to would-be donors was effectively an order.

“The restrictions have now been stated publicly in the government’s newspapers, but actually, tighter controls on private donations started at least two weeks ago,” said one private donor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Donors must now get permission from the authorities before making any donations.”

According to the announcement in The New Light of Myanmar, cash donations should be made to Col Hla Thein Swe, the deputy finance and revenue minister, or to two high-ranking officials of Burma’s central bank, Maung Maung Win and Kyaw Win Tin.

Relief items should be donated to Than Oo, director general of the relief and resettlement department, or Aung Tun Khaing, an official of the social welfare department.

The newspaper also listed the officials’ phone numbers.

The junta has arrested at least five private relief workers recently. Zarganar, a well-known comedian who led relief efforts by Burmese celebrities and organized one of the biggest local relief groups was arrested on June 4.

Two female aid workers, Yin Yin Wei and Tin Tin Cho, were arrested last Thursday along with their colleague Myat Thu. Zaw Thet Htway, a journalist and a private relief worker, was arrested on Friday.

“People who have a history of political activity have the most trouble when they get involved in relief work. People who have contact with the opposition party also find it difficult. Other relief workers who do not have good relations with the authorities also get into trouble,” said Khin Zaw Win, a Burmese researcher and relief worker in Rangoon.

Analysts say the recent arrests were an attempt by the ruling junta to weaken Burma’s civil society, which has gained strength through its involvement in relief efforts after the cyclone.

Meanwhile, villagers in Laputta Township in the Irrawaddy delta, one of the worst-hit areas, complained about corruption by local authorities, the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Kyi Win, a member of the NLD’s disaster response committee, said that the party received a letter from residents of the villages of Nyaung Lein and Peti, explaining that local authorities took 20 head of cattle which were supposed to be distributed to farmers who lost livestock in the disaster.

Renew Focus on Burma - Analysis

The Irrawaddy News

As Aung San Suu Kyi quietly spends another birthday under house arrest on Thursday, the UN Security Council will sit down to a debate on women’s rights, while the European Council is scheduled to examine the role of the European Union (EU) in international affairs. Perhaps the conjunction of events on June 19 will mark a perfect date to start refocusing on Burma’s political crisis.

At her home on the banks of Inya Lake in Rangoon, the only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the world, Suu Kyi, will turn 63 on Thursday, having spent almost 13 of the last 19 years under detention.

On the same date on the other side of the world, in New York, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will sit to examine the global progress on Resolution 1325, which was passed unanimously in October 2000. The resolution specifically addresses the impact of war on women by protecting them from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and addresses women's contributions to conflict resolution and creating sustainable peace.

“There is no more opportune and timely an international gathering to raise the issue of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's unlawful detention and the plight of women in Burma than at this significant occasion,” said Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the National League for Democracy.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will chair the debate, as the US holds the presidency of the UNSC for June 2008. According to sources close to the US state department, Rice is expected to highlight the situation of Suu Kyi, as well as the plight of women political prisoners and ethnic women in Burma.

There are about 154 imprisoned women activists languishing in Burma's jails, out of almost 2,000 political prisoners. Last week, at least three women volunteers distributing relief supplies to cyclone victims were arrested by Burmese authorities.

Meanwhile, the situation for women and girls in many ethnic areas in Burma is critically serious. In conflict areas such as Karen, Karenni and Shan states, ethnic women and girls, some reportedly as young as 10 years old, are raped by Burmese soldiers during military operations in these areas. This issue commands not only debate, but urgent action from the Security Council.

Also on June 19, the European Council will meet in Brussels and the 27 heads of state will discuss the role of the EU in international affairs.

The issue of Burma should be high the agenda of EU leaders. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, many analysts observe that the regime's handling of the humanitarian crisis in the country was tantamount to a “crime against humanity.” France, one of the leading members of the EU, correctly invoked the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine to intervene in Burma on humanitarian grounds.

“We demand the EU's heads of state bring Than Shwe before the International Criminal Court to be tried for his crimes against humanity, as recommended by the European parliament,” said Aung Din, the director of the US Campaign for Burma.

Of course, such a demand may not find an immediately positive reception in the halls of the parliament in Brussels.

However, the bottom line is that the international community must renew its focus and prioritize Burma's underlying political crisis. To this end, the date of Suu Kyi's birthday in conjunction with two major international meetings would be a symbolically good start.

One of the key obstacles in reorienting the international community's focus on the political crisis in Burma is the misleading UN principle of keeping humanitarian aspects totally separate from political aspect, according to UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

In fact, Holmes was echoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's words. “Issues of assistance and aid in Myanmar [Burma] should not be politicized,” he said before his first meeting with the regime’s leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, to plead for international access to the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta.

“While the UN secretary-general, the Burmese regime and allies of the junta have urged that the question of humanitarian aid not be “politicized,” the regime itself is taking every advantage of the cyclone to cement its grip on power to the exclusion of helping its own people,” said Jared Genser, attorney for Suu Kyi. “As is often the case, distraction and delay in discussing the fundamental issues in Burma only serve the interests of the regime.”

Some sources close to the UN said that Ban is considering a proposal to the Burmese military government that a political solution in Burma be implemented as an integral part in the coordinated reconstruction phase of the cyclone disaster.

However, the prevailing attitude and insistence among some key officials from the UN and INGOs is that even any tough talk from the international community could upset the generals and make the continuation of current access to the country impossible.

During last week's panel discussion in New York convened by the Asia Society and the Open Society Institute, Holmes said that further international sanctions or the threat of force would only have kept aid from the people who so desperately need it.

However, many Burmese opposition groups say such an attitude is appeasement.

“How inhumane are they?” asked Aung Din. “They are trying to reward Than Shwe and his clique in the name of humanitarian access. Actually, they have become complicit in allowing Than Shwe to commit crimes against humanity.”

NLD spokesperson Nyan Win said that the party always views the issues of politics and humanitarian crises as interrelated.

"A softly-softly policy has never yielded any solution in the past,” he said. “Nor will it in the future.”

Several UN officials expect the Burmese military may be more confident in dealing with the UN when they come to realize that the UN avoids politicizing humanitarian issues.

It could create a better mutual understanding and ultimately lead the junta to become more receptive in cooperating with the UN, even in a political area, said a UN source in New York.

If there were an implicit expectation behind such a jealously guarded humanitarian attitude, it would be dead wrong. The mentality of the Burmese generals will not allow such tactical optimism feasible.

Recently, the junta's top leaders—especially Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye—declared war on UN and INGO officials during the regime's relief-related meetings in the delta area.

According to sources close to the military, Maung Aye said that the foreigners are attempting to enslave the country. He also noted that it was China and Russia, not the UN, that helped convince the US and France to withdraw their naval vessels from international waters off the coast of Burma. The general also gave instructions to stamp out local NGOs and volunteer groups who, in his words, were “like slaves” receiving support from international donors.

Nonetheless, it should always be welcomed that the international community uses persuasion, not force, to achieve its goals, in this case opening up the delta in the aftermath of a devastating cyclone. However, the tactic of persuasion should not undermine the strategic goal—that of facilitating an acceptable political transition in Burma.

Engaging humanitarian work and pushing for genuine political transition should not be mutually exclusive. Avoiding tough talk and action against a brutal regime out of a fear of upsetting that regime is morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable.

The international community must renew its attention on Burma’s political crisis. Otherwise, Suu Kyi will be blowing out the candles on her birthday cake alone in her house for many more years to come.

Burmese Endure in Spite of Junta, Aid Workers Say


YANGON, Myanmar — More than six weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis swept through the Irrawaddy Delta in southern Myanmar, leaving a trail of flattened villages and broken lives and arousing international sympathy that turned to anguish as the military government obstructed foreign aid.

Now doctors and aid workers returning from remote areas of the delta are offering a less pessimistic picture of the human cost of the delay in reaching survivors.

They say they have seen no signs of starvation or widespread outbreaks of disease. While it is estimated that the cyclone may have killed 130,000 people, the number of lives lost specifically because of the junta’s slow response to the disaster appears to have been smaller than expected. (JEG's: what about the badly injured buried alive? those numbers will never count I suppose)

Relief workers here continue to criticize the government’s secretive posture and obsession with security, its restrictions on foreign aid experts and the weeks of dawdling that left bloated bodies befouling waterways and survivors marooned with little food. But the specific character of the cyclone, the hardiness of villagers and aid from private citizens helped prevent further death and sickness, aid workers say.

Most of the people killed by the cyclone, which struck on May 2-3, drowned. But those who survived were not likely to need urgent medical attention, doctors say.

“We saw very, very few serious injuries,” said Frank Smithuis, manager of the substantial mission of Doctors Without Borders in Myanmar. “You were dead or you were in O.K. shape.”

The cyclone swept away bamboo huts throughout the delta; in the hardest-hit villages, it left almost no trace of habitation. Some survivors carried away by floods found themselves many miles from home when the waters receded.

But those who survived were not likely to be injured in the aftermath by falling rocks or collapsing buildings, as often happens during natural disasters, like the earthquake in China.

That appears to be the primary reason villagers were able to stay alive for weeks without aid. As they waited, the survivors, most of whom were fishermen and farmers, lived off of coconuts, rotten rice and fish.

“The Burmese people are used to getting nothing,” said Shari Villarosa, the highest-ranking United States diplomat in Myanmar, formerly Burma. “I’m not getting the sense that there have been a lot of deaths as a result of the delay.”

The United States has accused the military government of “criminal neglect” in its handling of the disaster caused by the cyclone. Privately, many aid workers have, too. The junta, widely disliked among Myanmar’s citizens, did not have the means to lead a sustained relief campaign, they say.

But relief workers say the debate over access for foreigners and the refusal of the government to allow in military helicopters and ships from the United States, France and Britain overshadowed a substantial relief operation carried out mainly by Burmese citizens and monks.

They organized convoys of trucks filled with drinking water, clothing, food and construction materials that poured into the delta.

“It’s been overwhelmingly impressive what local organizations, medical groups and some businessmen have done,” said Ruth Bradley Jones, second secretary in the British Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. “They are the true heroes of the relief effort.”

Aid workers emphasize that of the estimated 2.4 million Burmese strongly affected by the storm, thousands remain vulnerable to sickness and many are still without adequate food, shelter and supplies.

But their ailments are — for now — minor. Medical logs from Doctors Without Borders show that of the 30,000 people the group’s workers treated in the six weeks after the cyclone, most had flesh wounds, diarrhea or respiratory infections. The latter two afflictions are common in rural Southeast Asia even in normal times. Diarrhea can be especially dangerous for infants and young children, but doctors say that, while they have treated thousands of cases, the illness has not reached critical levels.

“I can’t say it was an outbreak,” said May Myad Win, a general practitioner who works for Doctors Without Borders and spent 25 days in the delta treating an average of 25 patients a day. “It was not as severe as we feared.”

The number of people in need of serious medical aid was judged to be low enough that officials at a British medical group canceled plans to bring in a team of surgeons in the days after the storm, said Paula Sansom, the manager of the emergency response team for the group, Merlin.

For several weeks after the disaster, the government prevented all but a small number of foreigners from entering the delta. Now a more comprehensive picture of the damage is being assembled by a team of 250 officials led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The officials plan to release their findings next week.

The number of people killed in the storm may never be known. The government has not updated its toll since May 16, when it said 77,738 people were killed and 55,917 were missing.

In a country that has not had a full census in decades, it is not even certain how many people had been living in the area before the storm. Itinerants who worked in the salt marshes and shrimp farms were probably not counted among the dead, aid workers say.

But it is clear that in many villages, women and children died in disproportionate numbers, said Osamu Kunii, chief of the health and nutrition section of Unicef in Myanmar.

“Only people who could endure the tidal surge and high winds could survive,” Mr. Kunii said. In one village of 700, all children under the age of 7 died, he said.

With only minimal food supplies in villages, aid workers say, delta residents will require aid until at least the end of the year. The United Nations, after weeks of haggling with Myanmar’s government for permission to provide assistance, is now using 10 helicopters to deliver supplies to hard-to-reach places and alerting relief experts at the earliest sign of disease outbreaks.

Still, the military government continues to make it difficult for aid agencies to operate.

Last week, the government issued a directive that accused foreign aid agencies and the United Nations of having “deviated from the normal procedures.” The government imposed an extra layer of approvals for travel into the delta, effectively requiring that all foreigners be accompanied by government officials.

“They’re changing the goal posts,” said Chris Kaye, the director of operations in Myanmar for the United Nations World Food Program. “We have a whole set of new procedures.”

Myanmar’s government says it issued 815 visas for foreign aid workers and medical personnel in the month after the cyclone. But some aid workers were never allowed in, including the disaster response team from the United States Agency for International Development.

Local news media reported over the weekend that the government planned to build 500 cyclone shelters in the delta. These structures are used in neighboring Bangladesh, which has a relatively widespread early warning system.

When Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh in November, the winds reached an intensity similar to the 155-mile-an-hour gusts that blew through the Irrawaddy Delta last month.

Tellingly, the number of people killed by Cyclone Sidr — about 3,500 — was a small fraction of those killed in last month’s cyclone here.

"In that one night my whole life was destroyed" : International Medical Corps and Mingalar/Myanmar Helps Survivors Rebuild Their Lives

International Medical Corps

Yangon, Myanmar - Tint had moved his family to Dedaye town in April and was about to return to his home village to start preparing his paddies for the planting season when cyclone Nargis hit the delta. "The morning after the storm I looked around town and saw only devastation," he remembers. "I was convinced that everybody in my village was dead."

For five days he worried and waited for news but none came. Finally, he managed to hire one of the few boats that had not been destroyed in the storm and made the 90 minute trip to his home town. When Tint reached the village it was wrecked. "In that one night my whole life was destroyed."

Tint lost 20 relatives. One cousin's family was completely wiped out. Another uncle lost his wife and daughter. A nephew saw all of his children dying; a sister survived by hanging on to the remains of a cow shed.

A Trail of Destruction Only 17 houses were still standing, more than 100 had simply disappeared. First the wind had come, carrying away the thatched roofs. Then the water rose to the level of a grown man's chest. And finally huge waves gushed up from the delta carrying away the bamboo houses, the animals, and the people.

Tint's house is also gone. Only one of his water buffalos survived, now too weak to plough the paddies. He lost 300 baskets of rice he had stored in the village's granary that was washed away. This included all his food and seed savings.

"We all cried and then they told me how they survived," Tint remembers. The survivors were huddling in the monastery, the only brick building in the village. The morning after the storm they organized rescue missions. "They rowed out on to the water collecting people clinging to trees in the only two boats that were still intact."

The economic base of the whole village is gone. Half of the villagers live from growing rice; the others are fishermen or work as casual laborers. With only weeks left for preparing the paddies and planting this year's crop the outlook was grim.

Rebuilding Lives and Livelihoods But there was also good news. The salt water that was swept into the fields was washed away by heavy rains following the storm. And slowly help came trickling in.

Mingalar/Myanmar, International Medical Corps' local partner organization, brought food to the village. Other organizations delivered tarpaulin for makeshift houses and distributed mosquito nets. The three fresh water ponds were contaminated and an aid group fixed one of them so that villagers had drinking water.

Now International Medical Corps and its local partner have teamed up to kick start the economic recovery in this and other villages. The poorest farming families in the village will receive equipment, including tractors to replace the water buffalos, fuel, and seeds. A village committee will be in charge of the equipment, making sure that as many people as possible will benefit. The machines will work every day on a different farm during the early planting season to prepare as many fields of as many farmers as possible. Tint will be one of them. "Without this assistance we would struggle. Maybe we would have planted only a small part for our own consumption; and next year a bit more. But maybe it would have taken us ten years to recover completely."

[ Any views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not of Reuters. ]

Myanmar bloggers help build 'Budget Huts' for cyclone survivors

LABUTTA, Myanmar (IHT): Bloggers may find their messages blocked by Myanmar's military regime, but that hasn't stopped blogger Nyi Lynn Seck from raising tens of thousands of dollars for cyclone survivors through his Web site.

The 29-year-old IT specialist and his friends are getting their hands dirty and putting the donations to work by helping to build "Budget Huts" in the Irrawaddy delta, a region still reeling from the May 2-3 killer storm.

Days after Cyclone Nargis hit, Nyi Lynn Seck traveled from Yangon to the delta to document the survivors' stories. He posted their accounts and his photographs on his Web journal.

"I have been blogging for quite a long time and many overseas Myanmar citizens read it. They wanted me to go to the delta and help out," he said.

Nyi Lynn Seck quit his job as a manager at a software solutions company to lead six volunteers, including four other bloggers, on a mission to aid villages around Labutta. They have been here since May 9.

He is just one example of a grass-roots movement that has emerged in Myanmar. Many of those doing private relief work are highly critical of the government effort that followed the storm.

Private efforts have filled a lot of gaps in the relief effort, especially in the early weeks after the storm, when the junta turned back most foreign relief workers. After pleas from the U.N., the junta agreed to international aid, but it still limits foreigners' activities.

Nyi Lynn Seck said most of the US$30,000 received by the group came from Myanmar expatriates in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, but that money had come in from as far away as Europe.

Myanmar's military government, which strictly controls all media including the Internet, blocks most blogging sites. However, they are sometimes accessible by using a server that masks the site's true origin.

Bloggers played a major role in ensuring the free flow of information during anti-government protests in Myanmar last fall and the violent crackdown that followed. At least one blogger, Nay Phone Latt, remains in prison.

Nyi Lynn Seck's blog has in the past included personal observations, advice for would-be bloggers and news items. It has not been seen as anti-government.

Nyi Lynn Seck said he became an aid worker because he felt the junta's response to the storm — which killed 78,000 people and left 56,000 more missing — was inefficient.

"The government doesn't rely much on a system or technology and they don't know what to do. They work only on paper, so the help was really delayed," he said.

Nyi Lynn Seck picked up his black leather laptop bag and pulled out a stack of slides he shows to would-be donors. He also has two models of wood-and-blue plastic shelters, dubbed "Budget Huts."

The group, which calls itself "Handy Myanmar Youths" because it wants to lend a hand to survivors, has put up 88 huts in delta villages.

Such volunteerism is not always welcomed by the junta. A popular comedian was taken from his Yangon home by police this month after going to the delta to help survivors.

Many Myanmar volunteers and the local staff of foreign aid agencies pack their vehicles with food, water and other supplies when heading into the delta; several have reported being harassed by police or having their vehicles impounded.

Nyi Lynn Seck said the government approved his group's project after they detailed their plans to authorities in Labutta and declared that no foreigners were directly involved.

The group makes five- to six-hour boat rides to coastal villages to deliver materials and tools to build the huts and supervise the construction, which is done mostly by survivors.

Due to tides, the volunteers are unable to return to Labutta on the same day, so they usually spend at least one night sleeping on the bare ground without shelter from mosquitoes. Several have fallen ill.

The blogger said the group's most pressing concerns were about sustaining the project despite the high price of materials and transportation.

"Now the biggest problem is that we're having trouble finding wood in Labutta, and the wood is also getting very expensive," Nyi Lynn Seck said.

"As long as there are funds and donors, hopefully we can keep this up for another two to three months here," he said. "But I'm not so sure about the future."


On the Net:
Nyi Lynn Seck's Myanmar-language blog:

Volunteers help Myanmar cyclone victims still without foreign aid

By Moe Moe Yu

Tue Jun 17, 2008, KYON KA NAN, Myanmar (AFP) - Cyclone Nargis almost destroyed the remote village of Kyon Ka Nan, but residents are now rebuilding their homes and their food stocks, aided by a resilient group of Myanmar volunteers.

In this village of 300 homes, only six houses were left after the cyclone hit nearly seven weeks ago. Residents say 114 people died, many of their bodies washed into the freshwater ponds once used for drinking water.

Residents in Kyon Ka Nan say they have yet to receive any international aid, and official assistance has been meagre.

But they are slowly piecing together their shattered lives with the help of a resourceful network of local volunteers, who have delivered enormous amounts of aid despite their meagre resources and restrictions imposed by the military regime.

The latest shipment filled a cargo ship and a small boat, carrying 22 tonnes of rice, 100,000 tins of fish, and a team of doctors.

As the boat docked, men from the village helped unload 500 bags of rice, each weighing 100 kilos (225 pounds), and carried them to the Buddhist temple, which has become the focal point of the relief effort.

Many of the surviving villagers are living with the monks, as they rebuild their homes with bamboo and whatever they can salvage from the wreckage.

Villages like this one in the Irrawaddy delta bore the brunt of the cyclone's power, with more than 133,000 dead and 2.4 million in need of humanitarian aid.

Myanmar's regime has limited the scope of the international aid operation, and the UN says one million people have yet to receive any foreign assistance.

Even local volunteers -- often of modest means themselves -- struggle to skirt military roadblocks, and two prominent leaders of the aid movement have been arrested.

Despite the obstacles, Lae Lae, a 39-year-old helping to deliver the aid to Kyon Ka Nan, said they have reached more than 40 villages in this area southwest of Yangon.

"The donations came from several different sources -- monks, private companies or our friends working overseas," she said.

"They donated money through us and we have tried to reach villages where not much aid has arrived."

This is the group's fourth visit to Kyon Ka Nan. The volunteers hope to leave them with a month's supply of food, so the villagers can focus on reviving their rice fields.

The volunteers have organised themselves by specialty.

Five young volunteer doctors set up a temporary clinic at the monastery to treat people with injuries from the storm, as well as minor illnesses and in some cases trauma among people who watched their loved ones die.

A second group headed to the freshwater ponds that were once used for drinking, but were filled with debris and rotting corpses.

The bodies have already been cremated and the wreckage cleared, but residents are too afraid to drink from the ponds and have relied on rainwater instead.

The volunteers assure them they will take samples back to the main city of Yangon for testing, to see if the water is safe. But they will likely need to find a pump to empty the ponds and let the monsoon rains refill them.

A third group begins distributing the food, including rice, fish, cooking oil, beans and onions. The villager's leader had already made a roster of the families, and called out each family to receive their share.

"Ever since Nargis, we have lived on food donated from local groups. Otherwise we wouldn't have survived," said Win, one of the women lining up for food.

In the six weeks since the storm, Win says the only official aid she has received was 13 cups of rice and a few potatoes, plus a tarpaulin sheet from the local Red Cross Association.

Like most families in the delta, Win and her husband make their living by fishing and working as tenant farmers in the rice paddies.

She said the villagers already know how to supplement their diets with fish and wild vegetables, but she said their own supplies of rice were washed away.

"We mainly need rice. Fish and vegetables can be found easily," Win said.

The volunteers say they hope that if the village's most basic needs are cared for, the residents will be able to focus on farming

"We think that if they have enough food, then they can get back to work," said one of the volunteers. "So we are thinking about donating farming and fishing equipment next time."

New Asean emerging from response to Myanmar cyclone: Surin

Straits Times

ASEAN, often criticised for not dealing firmly with member Myanmar, was 'baptised' by its response to the cyclone in the junta-led nation and was ready for new responsibilities, the bloc's chief said.

Cyclone Nargis pounded the south-west Irrawaddy Delta and the main city of Yangon in early May, leaving more than 133,000 people dead or missing. Inciting international outrage, Myanmar's isolated military regime largely barred foreign aid workers from the delta.

But relief workers slowly moved into the region in late May after the junta began to ease restrictions on access, and asked fellow Asean nations to coordinate the international relief effort.

'We have been able to open the humanitarian space,' Mr Surin Pitsuwan told a forum in Singapore on Wednesday of the efforts by the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

'I think that's the success of Asean. I think that's the resiliency of Asean. I think that's a new Asean ready to take on the responsibility placed on it, expected of it.'

Nearly 300 Asean assessment team volunteers were now in the delta, working 'with full support, collaboration from the government of Myanmar', said Mr Surin, a former Thai foreign minister. (JEG's: whatever happened to the foreign Meds that returned to their bases as the camps have been closed??)

'It just so happened that we are being baptised by the Cyclone Nargis. That is the test of our new Asean,' Mr Surin said.

Asean said in early June that its emergency assessment team had begun to deploy in the delta to start a long-awaited assessment of those affected by the storm.

It said then that its advance teams would compile a first-hand 'progress report' for an Asean Roundtable meeting in Yangon on June 24.

The 10-member Asean has often been criticised for failing to act firmly with Myanmar, a member that has frequently embarrassed its neighbours with its refusal to shift towards democracy. -- AFP