Gordon Brown:Burma is guilty of inhuman action

Gordon Brown:Burma is guilty of inhuman action

Telegraph.co.uk

A woman walks in the rain as she covers herself with a plastic bag in the outskirts of Yangon, MyanmarThe official death toll of the cyclone disaster in Burma has risen to 78,000, as the country’s military regime continues block aid from reaching 2.5 million survivors.

The new figure is nearly double the official estimate of 43,000 dead or missing given on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister spoke shortly after France’s UN ambassador said Burma was on the verge of “committing a crime against humanity” by refusing to allow aid to be delivered.

A woman walks in the rain as she covers herself with a plastic bag in the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar

Jean-Maurice Ripert made the comment during a UN General Assembly session after Burma’s UN ambassador accused France of sending a warship to the region.

France said the ship is carrying 1,500 tons of food and medicines for the survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

Mr Brown called on the ruling junta to stop blocking foreign aid. ”This is inhuman. We have an intolerable situation, created by a natural disaster.

“It is being made into a man-made catastrophe by the negligence, the neglect and the inhuman treatment of the Burmese people by a regime that is failing to act and to allow the international community to do what it wants to do.”

He said “the responsibility lies with the Burmese regime and they must be held accountable.”

The official death toll of the cyclone disaster in Burma has risen to 78,000, as the country’s military regime continues block aid from reaching 2.5 million survivors.

The new figure is nearly double the official estimate of 43,000 dead or missing given on Wednesday.

According to state television, as of May 15 more than 55,000 people were missing and almost 20,000 have been injured in the worst disaster in the country’s history, which hit two weeks ago.

Independent experts have said the actual number is probably far higher, with British officials saying the total dead and missing could be more than 200,000.

The new death toll comes a day before the Burmese junta is due to lead foreign diplomats on a stage managed tour of the Irrawaddy Delta, the worst-hit area.

The delta is closed to outsiders — not just foreign aid workers and journalists but also Burmese from elsewhere in the country – making it increasing difficult to gain an impression of conditions there.

“The tour will go to a model camp in the delta, but we think it would be a mistake to turn our back on the visit even if it is a show operation” said a Western diplomat last night. “If we want to get more aid in, perhaps it is a game we have to play.”

Torrential rain continued on Friday, compounding the misery of survivors. There are reports of disease, and accounts of hungry villages gathering along roadsides in the rain and mud, begging passing vehicles for food with clasped hands. Food and clean drinking water are practically unavailable in most places.

Ramesh Shrestha, the head of Unicef in Rangoon who has local staff on the ground, said that in several places thousands of survivors are crammed together in temporary shelters without sanitation.

His agency is digging trenches as temporary latrines, and gathering together orphaned children “who have been found wandering around”.

Unaccompanied children are at risk of trafficking.

Restrictions imposed by the junta mean such relief efforts remain localised. Only around 10 per cent of victims are believed to have received any aid at all.

The European Union humanitarian aid commissioner, Louis Michel, on Friday became the latest in a long line of international grandees to visit Rangoon but gain no concessions. The junta again refused access for international aid workers. “They did not give any reason,” he said.

Mr Michel was also denied access to the delta, but taken instead to a “rather perfect, organised camp” near Rangoon.

State television reported that prime minister Thien Sein —number four in the military heirachy – claimed: “We have already finished our first phase of emergency relief. We are going onto the second phase, the rebuilding stage”.

The top three generals are yet to make any public statement on the crisis.

“They are in a completely parallel universe,” said the diplomat. “They see it essentially as a security operation. It’s straight from the playbook they used during the protests in September and October last year. You clear up all the journalists and block the news.”

The regime has an established tactic in dealing with Western pressure by slowly offering minor, cosmetic concessions and waiting until international attention wanes. “It’s completely transparent what they are doing with this trip,” said the diplomat.

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