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

AFP

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.

source:NewYorkTimes

The Return of Burma’s Monks

                                                                                    TIME

The Return of Burma’s Monks

Friday, May. 16, 2008

By A TIME CORRESPONDENT IN BURMA

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

Reuters

Photo

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

REUTERS/Stringer

 Photo

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

REUTERS/Stringer

Photo

 

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

Photo

 

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

REUTERS/Stringer

Photo

 

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

Photo

 

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

 

Photo

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

REUTERS/Stringer

 

Photo

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.

REUTERS/Stringer

 

Photo

Photo

 

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

REUTERS/Stringer

Suu Kyi ‘in darkness’ after Myanmar cyclone

May 8, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is living in virtual darkness after the devastating cyclone that struck the country blew the roof off her house, a neighbor said Thursday.

It was not clear if Suu Kyi was injured or whether she had enough food and water.

The neighbor said the electricity connection to Suu Kyi’s dilapidated lakeside bungalow was snapped in Saturday’s cyclone. He said he sees candles being lit at night in the house.

“She has no generator in her house. I felt pity for her. It seems no one cares for her,” said the neighbor, who was contacted by telephone from Bangkok. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has lived under house arrest for about 12 of the last 18 years for leading an internationally hailed movement for democracy in Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military with an iron fist since 1962.

The neighbor said a tree in the compound of her house was uprooted, while part of the roof was ripped off.

Soldiers posted around house have not yet cleared the trees that were toppled in the area during the cyclone.

“This area is of less priority, so they seemed to have ignored us for the time being,” he said.

In photos: ‘Burma Cyclone Aftermath – May 16th’

In photos: ‘Burma Cyclone Aftermath – May 16th’

By M&C News May 16, 2008, 16:24 GMT

 U.S. military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) is seen stationed about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The U.S. navy ship is awaiting permission from the Myanmar military to lift and transfer much needed humanitarian relief aid supplies to impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May.  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG

U.S. military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) is seen stationed about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The U.S. navy ship is awaiting permission from the Myanmar military to lift and transfer much needed humanitarian relief aid supplies to impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May. EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG
Helicopter pilots from the U.S. Marines with Sea Knights, U.S. marine helicopters parked on the deck of military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) stationed which is about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The ship has 14 helicopters onboard ready to transfer aid suplies to Myanmar once the U.S. navy ship receive permission from the Military junta to transfer the much needed humanitarian relief materials to the impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May .  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG
Helicopter pilots from the U.S. Marines with Sea Knights, U.S. marine helicopters parked on the deck of military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) stationed which is about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The ship has 14 helicopters onboard ready to transfer aid suplies to Myanmar once the U.S. navy ship receive permission from the Military junta to transfer the much needed humanitarian relief materials to the impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May . EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG
 
U.S. navy sailors and marines pass bags of water for packing into boxes on U.S. military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) stationed about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The water packs are part of the aid supplies to be transferred to Myanmar once the U.S. navy ship receive permission from the Military junta to transfer the much needed humanitarian relief aid supplies to impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May .  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG
U.S. navy sailors and marines pass bags of water for packing into boxes on U.S. military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) stationed about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The water packs are part of the aid supplies to be transferred to Myanmar once the U.S. navy ship receive permission from the Military junta to transfer the much needed humanitarian relief aid supplies to impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May . EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG
Burmese young boys have their lunch at a monastery outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese young boys have their lunch at a monastery outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
A Burmese monk dries his robe at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
A Burmese monk dries his robe at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
U.S. navy sailors and marines fill up bags with water on U.S. military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) stationed about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The water packs are part of the aid supplies to be transferred to Myanmar once the U.S. navy ship receive permission from the Military junta to transfer the much needed humanitarian relief aid supplies to impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May .  EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG
U.S. navy sailors and marines fill up bags with water on U.S. military amphibious ship, the USS Essex (LHD2) stationed about 85 nautical miles or 113 km south of Yangon, Myanmar in the International waters of the Andaman Sea on 16 May 2008. The water packs are part of the aid supplies to be transferred to Myanmar once the U.S. navy ship receive permission from the Military junta to transfer the much needed humanitarian relief aid supplies to impoverished country struck by Cyclone Nargis on 3 May . EPA/HOW HWEE YOUNG
A Burmese young monk smiles as he walks near an uprooted tree in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
A Burmese young monk smiles as he walks near an uprooted tree in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese cyclone survivors queue for food during a distribution outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese cyclone survivors queue for food during a distribution outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
 Burmese cyclone survivors queue for food during a distribution outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese cyclone survivors queue for food during a distribution outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese monks and residents cut an uprooted tree at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese monks and residents cut an uprooted tree at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese young boys wait for food at a monastery outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese young boys wait for food at a monastery outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese men cut an uprooted tree at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese men cut an uprooted tree at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese men cut an uprooted tree near a pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese men cut an uprooted tree near a pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese young boys wait for food at a monastery outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities.  EPA/EPA PHOTO
Burmese young boys wait for food at a monastery outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, 16 May 2008. Almost two weeks after the storm tore through the Southern Myanmar, leaving up to 128,000 people dead, supplies of food, medicine and temporary shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs to devastated communities. EPA/EPA PHOTO
 

YouTube videos of cyclone Nargis

YouTube videos of cyclone Nargis

 

Cyclone aftermath in Myanmar – 05 May 2008 (ALJAZEERA.NET)

78,000 killed’ in Burma cyclone

 

 

Situation in Yangon, Burma after Nargis Cyclone hit

 Witness to maynmar cyclone speaks out(CNN)

 

 

devastation, death in maynmar: dead are thrown into river

 

  

Myanmar’s military rulers blocking aid workers, foreign diplomats and journalists from reaching cyclone-battered regions

May 16, 12:31 PM EDT

 

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s military rulers have thrown a tightening ring of security around Yangon, blocking aid workers, foreign diplomats and journalists from reaching cyclone-battered regions where millions need food and medicine.

New roadblocks manned by armed police have sprung up around Myanmar’s largest city. Authorities at the checkpoints take down passport information and license plate numbers and sometimes interrogate drivers and their foreign passengers before ordering them to return to Yangon.

“A circle has been drawn around Yangon and expats are confined there. While you are getting aid through, it’s like getting it through a 3-inch pipe, not a 30-inch pipe,” said Tim Costello, president of the aid agency World Vision-Australia, in Yangon.

“Foreigners can’t go this way,” a policemen Friday told a driver with a foreign journalist at a checkpoint manned by 10 police and an immigration official dressed in khaki.

The reporter was heading north of Yangon, not even in the direction of the Irrawaddy delta, where Cyclone Nagris spent its greatest fury two weeks ago. The United Nations says more than 100,000 may have perished while up to 2.5 million survivors face starvation and disease.

In the week after the storm hit, entry by foreigners into the delta was difficult but not impossible. However, the security cordon has been noticeably tightened in recent days, with numerous new roadblocks thrown up along roads leading south and west into the delta from Yangon.

Some diplomats will be taken on a visit to the delta by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday, said U.S. Ambassador Shari Villarosa. Diplomats, who must seek official permission to travel outside Yangon, have faced the same barriers in trying to enter the affected region.

Even the few tourists remaining in Yangon cannot now take a ferry across the city’s Rangoon River, visit townships in the immediate Yangon area or travel to tourist sites elsewhere in the country.

“I tried to leave again yesterday, hoping to go to the Golden Rock but they wouldn’t let me board a bus after checking my ID,” said Michael Emery, a university student from Australia who said he plans to Myanmar because he is being confined to Yangon. The Golden Rock temple is a popular tourist destination about 120 miles southeast of Yangon.

The director of an international aid organization said he managed to penetrate the hardest-hit Irrawaddy region by taking roundabout routes to towns 100 to 150 miles from Yangon. He ended up driving 22 hours round trip to spend just two hours in the area and returned to Yangon on Monday.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he didn’t want restrictions on his agency’s travel in the future.

Earlier, others who managed to reach severely hit towns like Laputta and Bogalay were ordered out before they could enter the evacuation centers in which thousands of homeless, sick and hungry are huddled.

“Things will still get done but they will not be done as effectively, efficiently or as quickly which means delays, which means increasing risk (for survivors),” said Steve Marshall, a U.N. staffer interviewed in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday after arriving from Myanmar.

From the start, the isolationist regime has restricted foreign involvement in the crisis, saying it welcomes outside aid but not outside experts.

“It has been very clear ‘don’t try to leave Yangon or you could compromise your arrangement with the government,'” Costello said. “There is a visible fence around Yangon that we don’t dare cross.”

Myanmar staffers of international agencies such as World Vision, Save the Children and U.N. organizations have been permitted into the delta and the government has made only one exception to the no-foreigners order. Thailand will send in a 30-member medical team Saturday which has been promised access, while about 130 aid workers from China, India and Bangladesh may follow them into the delta.

The four countries, especially China, have close political ties with Myanmar which is widely criticized by Western nations and activist groups of suppressing pro-democracy forces and trampling on human rights.

“The hand that has been slapping them for their political regime and human rights is the same hand that is offering them aid and saying this isn’t about politics. They distrust that hand,” Costello said.

 

 

 

The Failed States Index 2007

The Failed States Index 2007

By The Fund for Peace and FOREIGN POLICY magazine

It is an accepted axiom of the modern age that distance no longer matters. ….

 A hermit leader’s erratic behavior not only makes life miserable for the impoverished millions he rules but also upends the world’s nuclear nonproliferation regime. The threats of weak states, in other words, ripple far beyond their borders and endanger the development and security of nations that are their political and economic opposites.

 What makes these alarming headlines all the more troubling is that their origins lie in weak and failing states. World leaders and the heads of multilateral institutions routinely take to lecterns to reiterate their commitment to pulling vulnerable states back from the brink, but it can be difficult to translate damage control into viable, long-term solutions that correct state weaknesses. Aid is often misspent. Reforms are too many or too few. Security needs overwhelm international peacekeepers, or chaos reigns in their absence.

The complex phenomenon of state failure may be much discussed, but it remains little understood. The problems that plague failing states are generally all too similar:

  • rampant corruption,
  • predatory elites who have long monopolized power,
  • an absence of the rule of law,
  • and severe ethnic or religious divisions.

But that does not mean that the responses to their problems should be cut from the same cloth. Failing states are a diverse lot.

  • Burma and Haiti are two of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International,
  • and yet Burma’s repressive junta persecutes ethnic minorities and subjects its population to forced resettlement…..

 but it may also be a key indicator of stability.

  • Vulnerable states display a greater degree of religious intolerance, according to scores calculated by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
  • Persecution of religious minorities in Burma, Bangladesh, Iran, and Uzbekistan has deprived millions of faithful of the freedom to follow their beliefs.
  • But religious repression is often nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to muzzle the country’s civil society. 
  • It seems the leaders of many failing states distrust any higher power that may be greater than their own.

 

The world’s weakest states are also the most religiously intolerant. Countries with a poor freedom of religion score are often most likely to meet their maker.

Look at the original/clear/big/complete graph here

This year, several vulnerable states took a step back from the brink.

Leading the Way to the Bottom

 Likewise, effective leadership can pull a state back from the brink. Indonesia’s first directly elected president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has helped steer the country, long marred by endemic corruption and devastated by the 2004 tsunami, toward greater stability since coming into office three years ago. He has initiated reform of the country’s crooked security sector, negotiated a peace agreement with rebels in Aceh Province, and made moderate improvements in government services. These efforts haven’t necessarily made him popular. But then, such leadership is exactly what more failing states need: a head of state who chooses continued reforms over his own power and recognition.

Nature vs. Nurture

Long Division

What holds back many of the world’s most fragile regimes is that they were never truly in charge in the first place.

 

When it comes to assessing state failure, some countries emerge with split personalities. That is, states may be the picture of stability, peace, and economic growth in some areas, yet no-go zones in others. A dozen countries among the 60 most vulnerable contain “virtual states,” areas that are essentially self-governing, but claimed by the central government.

 Governments will often go to great lengths to regain such breakaway regions, and their efforts can be tremendously costly. A brutal 2002 civil war aimed at retaking the rebel-held northern half of the Ivory Coast split the country in two, blunting its otherwise impressive economic growth and leaving thousands of U.N. forces to keep the peace. In Pakistan, government efforts to crack down on suspected al Qaeda operatives in the restive border regions have led to violent protests. And attempts by the Sri Lankan government to regain territory from the Tamil Tigers last year sparked some of the worst violence in the country in years.

History is full of brutal leaders who have plunged their lands into poverty and war through greed, corruption, and violence. And though many events—natural disasters, economic shocks, an influx of refugees from a neighboring country—can lead to state failure, few are as decisive or as deadly as bad leadership.

 To provide a clearer picture of the world’s weakest states, The Fund for Peace, an independent research organization, and FOREIGN POLICY present the third annual Failed States Index.

Using 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators, we ranked 177 states in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration. The index scores are based on data from more than 12,000 publicly available sources collected from May to December 2006. The 60 most vulnerable states are listed in the rankings, and full results are available at www.ForeignPolicy.com and www.fundforpeace.org.

The vast majority of the states listed in the index have not yet failed;

  • they exhibit severe weaknesses that leave them vulnerable,
  • especially to shocks such as natural disasters,
  • war,
  • and economic deprivation.

The power of such events should not be underestimated.

But while these states’ failings may be frequent fodder for headlines around the world, it is obvious that there are few easy answers to their troubles.

In highlighting which states are at the greatest risk of failure, we can only hope that more effective and long-term solutions emerge over time as we compare the index from year to year. In that way, positive reversals of fortune can occur for the world’s most vulnerable nations and, in the process, improve the security and prosperity of everyone.

  • The world’s weakest states are also the most religiously intolerant.
  • Countries with a poor freedom of religion score are often most likely to meet their maker.

 Freedom of worship may be a cornerstone of democracy,

Look at the original/clear/big/complete table here 

 

After Nargis, security dilemma

After Nargis, security dilemma

Article by Josh Hong on May 16, 08 in Malaysiakini

The real tragedy in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Burma_

  • lies not in the scale of the damage
  • and the number of lives lost,
  • but in the utter failure of the military junta to respond to the catastrophe,
  • practically creating more deaths through its inaction.

Despondent at the inertia of the Burmese authorities, a friend of mine asked: Is Burma now a failed state?

I had no clear answer to that, but this question did prompt me into deeper thought on the issue.

Foreign Policy and the Fund For Peace publish their joint index of failed states on an annual basis, and in their latest publication, Burma ranks as the 14th country on the alert list.

The index defines a failed state as_

  • one in which the ruling authorities are no longer in a position to maintain the state’s territorial integrity,
  • set to lose the monopoly of regular and legitimate forces,
  • and incapable of collective decision,
  • causing the general population to resort to underground economy for survival.

Which is weird because Burma, or Burma Proper at least, is not a state that is being confronted with territorial disintegration. While there are pockets of conflicts posed by secessionist, ethnic rebels, most notably the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), military wings of the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIA) respectively, the notorious Burmese military, known as Tatmadaw in Burmese, remains undefeatable.

While it is true that black market economy is booming, especially in the areas bordering China, India and Thailand, economic participation, legal or illegal alike, by the Burmese population at large is still insignificant, as the militarization of the socialist state has ensured that only the military-linked elites are in control of the economy.

 

Four critical responsibilities

Going by the criteria provided by Foreign Policy and the Fund For Peace, it seems to me several countries are clear-cut examples of a failed state: Somalia, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, of course, Iraq.

While I am skeptical about the failed states index, another report, the Index of State Weakness in the Developing World, prepared by Susan E Rice of the Brookings Institution and Stewart Patrick of the Center for Global Development, has caught my attention.

In this informative document, the two authors define “weak states as_

  • countries that lack the essential capacity
  • and/or will to fulfill four sets of critical government responsibilities:
  1. fostering an environment conducive to sustainable and equitable economic growth;
  2. establishing and maintaining legitimate, transparent, and accountable political institutions;
  3. securing their populations from violent conflict and controlling their territory;
  4. and meeting the basic human needs of their populations”.

 

Accordingly, the world’s three weakest states: Somalia, Afghanistan and the Congo, are also failed states, while another 25 countries are “critically weak states”, including Iraq (4), North Korea (15) and Burma (17).

The document also finds that some of the critically weak states have experienced longstanding violent conflict, such as Burma and Nepal. Meanwhile, five of them have seen military action by the United States in their territories: Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Liberia and, needless to say, Iraq.

It is not entirely coincidental that these failed or failing states have tasted war waged by the US. In fact, tackling weak or critically weak states has become a core part of the revised military logic of the successive US administrations since the end of the Cold War. Over the years, the CIA and the National Intelligence Council have consistently argued that state failure and ungoverned spaces are among the international security threats to strong states such as the US. Pre-emptive strike or other forms of international action would therefore be legitimate.

Due to its geopolitical strategic values, Nepal, a Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between China and India, once received substantial military assistance form the US to drive out the Maoist rebels. Thousands of Nepalese died since 1996, partly thanks to the arrival of American M-16 submachine guns at the disposal of Kathmandu. ()

Back to Burma. Washington’s recent focus on the military junta cannot be simply explained as a will to “do good”, hoping to find a way out for the suffering Burmese populace. As the case of Iraq has taught us, there is no such thing as just war.

Since 2005, the Bush administration has been actively lobbying international organizations, ranging from the United Nations to other human rights groups, to apply greater pressure on Rangoon, the recruitment of child soldiers by Tatmadaw being a favorite issue raised by Washington time and time again.

But is the military junta the only one exploiting children in this manner?

Mistrust aggravated

Last year, Human Rights Watch published a detailed and excellent report on the recruitment of child soldiers in Burma. It is telling that the several major ethnic insurgent groups, including the United Wa State Army, the KNLA, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), are all implicated in this dirty and evil business, alongside the Burmese junta.

Other sources meanwhile reveal that the US has provided financial support to the KNLA and the SSA-S in the past. Such action is indeed perfectly in line with the US’ attempt to manipulate the failed state concept to its own advantage.

It is worth reminding here that, in the 1970s, thousands of ethnic Hmongs in Laos – including minors – were lured by the CIA to fight against the communists, and abandoned to their fate after the adventure failed.

I have just finished reading The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, by Thant Myint-U, grandson of former UN secretary-general U Thant, after whom Jalan U Thant is named.

Weaving family stories into the grand narrative of a country steeped in history and tradition, the author seeks to explain that Burma has never been a functioning, well-defined nation state, not even in the pre-colonial times when the country was ruled by warrior kings and characterized by incessant wars with its neighbours.

The British creation of a modern Burma by incorporating territories and nations that had never shared a common history with the Burmese kingdom has only aggravated the ethnic mistrust, and subjected the minority groups to decades of oppression alongside the Burmans. The civil war in the border areas has also been open to exploitation by outside forces, ie. China, India and the US.

Thant goes as far as to suggest no amount of foreign pressure will change the behavior of the military junta, who sees itself nothing but a reincarnation of the past warrior kings.

This, perhaps, explains the hesitation of the ruling authorities in granting permits for foreigners to enter the country on humanitarian grounds. After all, the Burmese warrior kings hardly had the welfare of the people at heart.

I certainly hope rational will prevail in Burma, and aid be sent in to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis. However, without understanding this unique history of Burma and the hostile international climate, it is impossible to make sense of the intransigence of the Burmese military junta.

Photos from TIME 1

                                                  Waiting to Save Burma

TIME

the Irrawaddy river

Devastated
A remains of a home teeter on the edge of the Irrawaddy River front in Bogalay, Burma, where official reports say 30,000 people have been killed in a cyclone that ravaged the nation on May 2.

Damage in Bogalay

Wiped Out
Villages like Bogalay, pictured here on May 9, were torn to the ground by Cyclone Nargis, the worst natural disaster in the southeast Asian nation’s modern history.

Farmers try to salvage the rice crop

Salvaging
Farmers in Thar Yar Wae village, on the road to Bogalay, try to save what they can of their rice crop by drying it on the road on May 8.

Rice distribution

Trying to Keep Hunger at Bay
Rice is distributed at a monastery at Phayargyi village near Rangoon on May 11, as the ruling junta started to allow a trickle of food aid into the country a full week after the cyclone hit.

Cyclone affected people cook barley rice

On Their Own
Cyclone victims cook barley rice in the Ywan Chyan Kone township near Rangoon on May 11. As of Monday, less than 10 shipments from the World Food Program had been delivered.

Damage in Bogalay

Powerless
Damaged electrical wires dangle over the road in Bogalay on May 9. Foreign aid workers still have not been allowed in to help.

People queue to get clean water

At Risk
People line up for clean water in Kyaiklat, on the road to Bogalay. Relief groups have said up to half a million buckets for clean water are needed in the nation, according the Wall Street Journal

A destroyed temple at Pyin Taung Su village

Perfect Storm
A destroyed temple at Pyin Taung Su village sinks into the water on the bank of the U Yin Chaung River. On Sunday, Oxfam said Burma faces a “public health catastrophe” due to lack of water, food, and new storms expected this week.

Homeless refugee families

Waiting
Refugees at a monastery in the town of Kyaiklat on May 8. Health officials say up to 1.5 million people are now at risk of deadly disease if aid continues to be blocked.