Myanmar cyclone: Forced labour camp fears

 Myanmar cyclone: Forced labour camp fears

By Graeme Jenkins in Rangoon

Survivors of the Burma cyclone are being forced into government camps amid fears they will be used as forced labour.

Government refugee camps to house cyclone survivors in KhonChanGone township, Yangon, BurmaThe ruling military junta has forcibly relocated tens of thousands of survivors from the Irrawaddy delta following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis on May 2.

 Many who had sought shelter in Buddhist monasteries – the centre of unrest during protests against the junta last year – are also being moved into government camps.

Ko Hla Min, a 35-year-old farmer who lost nine relatives in the storm, said that those rounded up by soldiers around the devastated town of Bogalay were being used as forced labour.


“They have to break stones at the construction sites. They are paid $1 per day but are not provided with any food,” he said.

 Meanwhile, a senior UN official told The Daily Telegraph that he feared other survivors will shortly be moved back to the delta and used by the junta to plant the next rice crop in the coming weeks.

 About 80,000 people had sought sanctuary in schools and temples in the delta town of Labutta, which was left in ruins after the cyclone struck nearly two weeks ago, they said.

 Now, only about 20,000 remain in their care at 50 monasteries in Labutta, after the military moved them to camps.

 A Buddhist monk stands outside a monastery that had given shelter to people displaced by the cyclone

With an official toll of 66,000 dead or missing and another two million in dire need of emergency aid, the government again rejected calls to accept foreign relief workers needed to quickly deliver food, water, shelter and medicine. The Red Cross estimates the real death toll to be closer to 128,000.

 Many displaced families have moved into temporary sheltersForeign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown yesterday the most senior members of Burma’s military government of turning a “deaf ear” to the plight of their subjects.

 “From the top level of government, there is a sense that there is a complete deaf ear, that [ruling general] Than Shwe is not hearing the seriousness of the crisis and the regime has set its back against the need to accept outside help.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the United Nations was to organise an emergency summit in Asia to discuss the disaster.

Many displaced families have moved into temporary shelters

 The reports came as the Burmese regime announced an overwhelming endorsement of its new constitution in the referendum held last weekend.

 State radio claimed that 92.4 per cent of voters in a 99 per cent turn out voted “yes”, although rights groups and dissidents earlier reported a low turnout and extensive irregularities. At some polling stations officials voted “yes” on behalf of anyone who had not appeared by 1pm. Campaigning against the constitution was punishable with jail.

A western diplomat in Rangoon told the Daily Telegraph that only one small fraction of the army was initially devoted to relief efforts in the area devastated by cyclone Nargis, while the regime concentrated its resources on conducting the referendum. Their only concession to the storm was to postpone voting in the effected areas until May 24.

The supposedly democratic charter is widely dismissed as a smoke screen for prolonged military rule.

Many of those are still without adequate food, shelter and drinking water two weeks later. Reports of cholora are beginning to spread by word of mouth.

 In an attempt to hide the burgeoning humanitarian catastrophe from the outside world even Burmese people are no longer allowed to enter the Irrawaddy Delta area, which is ringed by road blocks. Foreign aid workers are banned and foreign journalists posing as tourists have been unable to enter since the beginning of the week.

The military insists that it will distribute the international aid trickling into Rangoon airport, although some of it has already appeared in Rangoon markets.

part of the Network


Forced labour cleans up Myanmar cyclone

Military leaders say relief getting to 2.5 million victims

Aung Hla Tun, Reuters

Published: Friday, May 16, 2008

Myanmar’s military government said Thursday its cyclone relief effort was moving along swiftly even as foreign powers warned of starvation and disease among up to 2.5 million people left destitute by the storm.

The European Union’s top aid official met government ministers and urged them to allow in foreign aid workers and essential equipment to prevent more deaths. But his trip did not yield any breakthroughs.

“Relations between Myanmar and the international community are difficult,” Louis Michel said. “But that is not my problem. The time is not for political discussion. It’s time to deliver aid to save lives.”

Earlier, Myanmar’s generals signalled they would not budge.

“We have already finished our first phase of emergency relief. We are going onto the second phase, the rebuilding stage,” state television quoted Prime Minister Thein Sein as telling his Thai counterpart.

Nearly two weeks after Cyclone Nargis tore through the heavily populated Irrawaddy delta — leaving up to 128,000 people dead — supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs.

In Bogalay, a Delta town where 10,000 people are thought to have died, people complained of forced labour and low supplies of food at state-run refugee centres.

“They have to break stones at the construction sites. They are paid K1,000 ($1) per day but are not provided any food,” said Ko Hla Min, who lost nine family members in the storm.

In Bogalay relief materials were being held in storage waiting for distribution and government officials sold tin-sheets for roofs at $5 apiece, far above the budget of most.

Along the river rotting corpses remain near where villagers fish, wash and bathe. The United Nations has said more than half a million people may now be sheltering in temporary settlements.

The UN estimates of the number of people in urgent need at 2.5 million, and called for a high-level donors’ conference to deal with the crisis.

One Response

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