Laura Bush to Myanmar: ‘Let people of US help’


WASHINGTON (AFP) — First Lady Laura Bush implored Myanmar Wednesday to “let the people of the United States help” with emergency cyclone aid after the military junta barred US navy ships from providing relief supplies.

The wife of President George W. Bush refuted charges by the Myanmar state media that there were “strings attached” to the navy aid, and said it was vital for the reclusive government to allow the US ships laden with emergency supplies to sail near the worst-hit regions of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta. Continue reading

Myanmar to Widen Neighbors’ Aid Role

A transport plane flew over a temple near Myanmar’s capital of Yangon on Saturday.


Published: May 20, 2008
BANGKOK — Myanmar agreed Monday to let its Southeast Asian neighbors help coordinate foreign relief assistance for cyclone victims, bending somewhat to international pressure to allow more outside aid, Singapore’s foreign minister, George Yeo, said.
But the supply of aid and the entry of relief workers from countries outside the Southeast Asian bloc will continue to be limited, he said.

“We will establish a mechanism so that aid from all over the world can flow into Myanmar,” Mr. Yeo said, speaking at an emergency meeting in Singapore of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, which includes Myanmar.

“Myanmar is also prepared to accept the expertise of international and regional agencies to help in its rehabilitation efforts,” he said at a news conference. Referring to the continuing limits on help from countries outside Southeast Asia, he said, “We have to look at specific needs — there will not be uncontrolled access.”

Since the cyclone, which struck Myanmar on May 3, Western nations and major relief groups have expressed alarm about Myanmar’s refusal to allow in large-scale shipments to the estimated 2.5 million survivors in need of aid.

Myanmar has permitted a small flow of aid from several nations, including the United States. But relief officials say that this amounts to only 20 percent of the needed supplies. Without more aid, they say, many more people may yet die of disease and starvation.

International pressure continued to build on Monday from several directions, with the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, warning that the ruling junta could be guilty of “crimes against humanity” if it continued to restrict the supply of aid into the country.

However, despite the international criticism, Myanmar’s foreign minister, Nyan Win, was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters that there had been no delay in accepting aid. “We always welcomed international aid,” he said.

The government said Monday that beginning Tuesday, flags would be lowered as part of a three-day mourning period for the victims of the cyclone.

After failing to receive a reply to letters and telephone calls made to the military junta, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations was due to travel to Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, this week in hopes of meeting the country’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

On Sunday, state-run television broadcast the first public video images of the general since the cyclone, showing him meeting ministers involved in the rescue effort and touring some affected areas.

The United Nations under secretary for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, toured the Irrawaddy Delta region by helicopter on Monday, according to Michèle Montas, Mr. Ban’s spokeswoman.

Mr. Yeo, the foreign minister, said Asean would work with the United Nations at the conference in Yangon on Sunday to coordinate aid deliveries. He said Myanmar had agreed to allow in medical teams from any of its nine neighbors in Asean. Thailand has already sent a contingent of more than 30 medical workers.

In addition, Myanmar has allowed in 50 medical workers from India. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported that a team of 50 Chinese medics arrived in Yangon on Sunday night.

Mr. Yeo said the Myanmar government estimated losses at $10 billion in the cyclone, which swept through the Irrawaddy Delta and Yangon.

Myanmar has raised its official death toll to 78,000. The United Nations and the Red Cross estimate that the toll is more than 100,000, and that it might be as high as 138,000.

Representatives of United Nations relief agencies said that some of their supplies were getting into Myanmar but that the authorities were still severely limiting delivery and withholding many visas from foreign relief experts.

The United Nations World Food Program said it had managed to deliver food aid to just 212,000 of the 750,000 people it thinks are most in need.

The United States and France have naval vessels just outside Myanmar’s territorial waters, and are prepared to deliver supplies directly to affected areas along the coast, but they have not received clearance from the government.

In a column in the French newspaper Le Monde, Mr. Kouchner said the United Nations should intervene by force, or would be guilty of cowardice in the eyes of the world.

“What we need to bring is hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart help, not donor conferences with all their bowing and scraping,” he said later in an interview with French radio. “In the meantime, people are dying.”

Mr. Yeo rejected the idea of delivery by force. “That will create unnecessary complication,” he said at the news conference. “It will only lead to more suffering for Myanmar’s people.”

On Saturday, Myanmar’s powerful neighbor and ally, China, said other countries must show “due respect” to Myanmar in its handling of the disaster within its borders.

“Myanmar is a sovereign country,” Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said at a briefing. “In the end, rescue and relief work will have to rely on the Myanmar government and people.”

Seth Mydans reported from Bangkok, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Warren Hoge contributed reporting from the United Nations.


The Return of Burma’s Monks


The Return of Burma’s Monks

Friday, May. 16, 2008


Rangoon travel agent Chin Chin used to take tourists to a nearby Irrawaddy delta town famous for its pottery. But the vast waterworld of rivers and rice fields that stretched beyond it was a foreign land to her until Cyclone Nargis and its horrific aftermath. On Thursday, Chin Chin and her friends bought rice and water, loaded it on a truck, and drove deep into the delta. She was shocked by what she saw: roads lined with hundreds of cold and hungry villagers, disregarded by their own government, who had walked for an hour from their broken villages to beg from passing motorists.

“They were mostly housewives,” recalls Chin Chin, who goes by the nickname. “They told me, ‘Rice is a must, so it’s worth standing in the rain for three or four hours to get some.’ They didn’t even have a change of clothes.” Fighting back her tears, Chin Chin gave out rice and listened to stories of families torn apart and villages destroyed. “It was piteous,” she says. “I really sympathized with them. We didn’t see any aid from government or foreign groups.”

Chin Chin belongs to a burgeoning homegrown relief effort which is capturing Burmese from all walks of life. Students and shopkeepers, medics and models — thousands of people have now donated money, food or services to Nargis victims. Hundreds like Chin Chin are delivering aid themselves, while privately run local charities are reorienting their operations around cyclone relief.

While they continue to make it difficult for foreigners to offer aid, Burma’s generals welcome the help of their own people — at least officially. “Myanmar people’s generosity is amazing,” marvels a recent article in The New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper.* Privately, however, they must be getting nervous. Ordinary Burmese are horrified by the suffering of their compatriots and angry at the junta’s inadequate attempts to alleviate it. Their humanitarian efforts could well spark a political one, especially as it also involves Buddhist monks, who last September led the biggest anti-government protests Burma had seen for nearly 20 years.

Private donors have faced some government restrictions. Those who arrive in the towns have been asked to hand over their relief supplies to local authorities for distribution. Instead, many are reportedly storing the goods with sympathetic locals and secretly distributing them by themselves. The junta doesn’t want foreigners distributing aid in the delta, but neither does it feel comfortable with Burmese distributing it. “The government is scared that relief workers will get involved in politics,” says a co-founder of one Burmese relief group.

Some are involved already. Celebrated actor Kyaw Thu, who was jailed for a month for joining last September’s demonstrations, runs the Free Funeral Services Society, a private charity offering free cremations for the poor. It is now operating its own relief effort, with volunteers at its Rangoon headquarters loading up delta-bound trucks with donated goods.

Another anti-junta stalwart is comedian Zaganar (the name means “Tweezers”), also briefly jailed for his role in last year’s protests. Zaganar and his celebrity friends have bought food and medical supplies for Nargis victims and are using their names to raise more funds. Both the disaster and the grassroots response to it are unprecedented in Burma. “I think there will be political consequences,” he says. “People are very angry with the government.”

The monks are also on the move again. Buddhist temples and monasteries have always played a central role in helping the needy in Burma (as, in this religiously and ethnically diverse country, have churches, mosques and Hindu temples). After the cyclone, monks led small-scale relief efforts into the delta, the distinctive multicolored flags of their faith fluttering from cars and small trucks. Monks from well-known monasteries in Mandalay and elsewhere in Burma are either in the delta or heading there, while in Pakkoku — the Irrawaddy town near Mandalay where last year’s protests originated — their brethren are reportedly soliciting donations for cyclone victims. Shwe Pyi Hein Monastery, which already runs a free clinic in Rangoon, has dispatched five volunteer doctors to the disaster area, who are treating more than 100 people every day.

Despite the participation of thousands of Burmese, the impact of this homegrown relief effort will always limited, admits Zaganar. “We deliver our supplies by road because we cannot afford a boat,” he says. “But most victims live close to the water. We cannot get through to them.” He says Burma desperately needs more boats and helicopters from abroad. Not even the nation’s richest private donors — who include junta cronies like tycoon Tay Za, who was put on a U.S. sanctions list last year — have the means or expertise to meet even a fraction of the needs in far-flung delta areas.

Rangoon resident claims military selling aid supplies

May 17, 2008 (DVB)–Despite the Burmese regime’s announcement that anyone stealing or hoarding aid supplies will face legal actions, reports continue to circulate of aid appropriation and re-selling by military officials. 

The government’s National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee declared in the state media that offenders would face punitive action if aid was “kept for self-interest, traded, used for particular persons and organisations, or misappropriated for other purposes”.

 The United Nations has said that international monitoring of markets and traders has not produced any evidence of aid being systematically sold, but locals continue to report individual cases of official exploitation of relief supplies.

 A Rangoon resident claimed yesterday that military officials had been selling rice and oil during the night.

 “They are selling bags of rice donated from abroad. The army delivers them during the night in their cars,” the resident said.

 “You can see Two Prawns brand oil donated by Thailand being sold on the streets in various types of bottles and boxes and measures, and you can get as much as you like,” he said.

 “When I asked the sellers about it, they told me that they were sold by people in army trucks at night.”

 He also said tarpaulins were being sold at Yuzana Plaza, Mingaladon Market, Theingyi Market and Nyaungpinlay Market Plaza for 7000 kyat a roll.

The resident said that local security forces were aware of the army’s activities but were afraid to take any action against them.

 “As it is done by the army, the police dare not do anything. The police in Kyauktan are feeling resentful,” he said.

 The army also reportedly confiscated mobile phones donated by the Thai prime minister during his recent visit to the country, and took all the laptop computers donated by the Chinese government, a government communications staff member told DVB.

 “The Thai prime minister Samak [Sundaravej] came to give us 50 satellite phones and 30 were confiscated by the army. That is official,” he said.

 “And [the military] came and took away 10 laptops given by China yesterday. These are the exact numbers.”


 Reporting by Naw Say Paw


NLD committee helps cyclone victims in affected areas

May 17, 2008 (DVB)–The National League for Democracy’s cyclone rescue committee visited cyclone-affected areas earlier this week and said victims were still lacking essential support while some had been forced to work. 

Committee chairman U Ohn Kyaing, secretary Dr Win Naing, U Sein Hla Oo and a team went to Bogalay, Pyapon, Dadaye and Mawlamyaingkyun on Monday and Tuesday to donate money to help refugees. 

Win Naing said refugees had been forcibly taken to Ma-Upin from Bogalay and made to work in a quarry for 1000 kyat a day. Those who were unable to work were given no support and returned to monasteries in Bogalay to seek shelter. 

“It is very hard to find a good house in Bogalay. The whole town is in ruins and looks as though a bomb has hit it,” Win Naing said. 

Win Naing said the NLD committee was focusing its efforts in the townships with the highest death tolls, including the areas below Mawlamyaingkyun, where a two-storey monastery built last year was washed away. 

“We couldn’t even find so much as a broken brick and you can’t see where it was built any more,” he said. 

The areas around Bogalay, Pyapon, Dadaye and Laputta have also been devastated, Win Naing said. 

“The estimated death toll below Laputta is 80,000 to 100,000, over 50,000 in Bogalay, 5000 to 6000 in Pyapon, and around 5000 in Kunchankone,” he said. 

Win Naing said the lack of government assistance meant that local cyclone victims had to rely on monks for food and shelter. 

“In Bogalay, they sent villagers back to their villages with three or four potatoes and one pyi of rice,” he said. 

“When the villagers saw that there was nothing in the villages, they took a boat back and went to stay in the monastery,” he went on. 

“When they came back to repatriate the villagers, the monks said they would follow them and only allow them to stay there when they had homes to live in and food to eat. Only then did the authorities give up their efforts.” 

According to the monks, around 10,000 storm victims are taking refuge in monasteries. 

Reporting by Aye Aye Mon



Diplomats get tour of cyclone zone

The Press Association

Diplomats get tour of cyclone zone

Burma’s military government tried to show the world that all was under control after the cyclone despite signs everywhere to the contrary.

Officials led diplomats on their first tour through the Irrawaddy delta where more than 130,000 people were killed or are missing.

The junta flew 60 diplomats and United Nations officials in helicopters to three places in the delta where camps, aid and survivors were put on display.

In one town, tired and hungry refugees stood in the baking sun beside flooded rice paddies, demolished monasteries and thatched huts. With the arrival of each vehicle carrying precious food and water, they jumped with excitement and surged ahead to get a share.

“The further you go, the worse the situation,” said an overwhelmed doctor in the town of Twante, just south west of Rangoon, Burma’s main city.

“Near Rangoon, people are getting a lot of help and it’s still bad. In the remote delta villages, we don’t even want to imagine.”

Authorities said they had almost finished carrying out relief work and were moving towards reconstruction and rebuilding. The underlying message was that they welcomed international assistance, but there was no need for foreign personnel.

The diplomats were not all swayed. “It was a show,” Shari Villarosa, the top US diplomat in Burma, said after returning to Rangoon. “That’s what they wanted us to see.”

State-run radio denied that aid was being refused, saying: “The people of Burma warmly welcome foreign assistance for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.” It said the government has so far spent £1 million on relief work and had received millions worth of relief supplies from local and international donors.

But a French navy ship that arrived off Burma’s shores on Saturday loaded with food, medication and fresh water was stopped from distributing aid, a response which France’s UN ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, called “nonsense”.

Myanmar Cyclone photo album from Reuters Part 5

Myanmar Cyclone photo album from Reuters Part 5



A boy watches as a man builds a shelter in a village hit by Cyclone Nargis, near the Myanmar capital Yangon, May 16, 2008.



People take shelter in a pagoda in an area affected by Cyclone Nargis, near the Myanmar capital Yangon, May 16, 2008.




A marine walks past boxes of packaged potable water on the USS Essex about 80 nautical miles south of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta May 16, 2008.

REUTERS/Vivek Prakash



A boy carries water at a village hit by Cyclone Nargis, outside Yangon, May 16, 2008.




The USS Essex is seen from a helicopter about 80 nautical miles south of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta May 16, 2008. The USS Essex is currently stationed in international waters to the south of the delta pending permission to carry out the delivery of humanitarian relief goods to people hit by Cyclone Nargis.

REUTERS/Vivek Prakash



Buddhist monks from the Sitagu Missionary Association travel on a boat carrying donated rice for cyclone victims as they move out from Kyaiklat to Bogalay, one of the worst-hit areas by Cyclone Nargis, May 14, 2008.

REUTERS/Aung Hla Tun



People take shelter in a pagoda in an area affected by Cyclone Nargis, near the Myanmar capital Yangon, May 16, 2008.




A young monk adjusts his robe next to a pagoda in an area affected by Cyclone Nargis, near the Myanmar capital Yangon, May 16, 2008.






A woman and her children stay in their home at a village hit by Cyclone Nargis, outside Yangon, May 16, 2008.