Cyclone survivors victimised by Myanmar soldiers

 Cyclone survivors victimised by
Myanmar soldiers

 May 29, 2008 PYAPON (Myanmar) –

PYAPON, Myanmar (AP) — It’s not much, but the flimsy bamboo lean-to on the side of the road is all Aye Shwe has to keep his family dry. They lost their home to the cyclone and may soon be uprooted again — this time by soldiers ordering them to leave.

A 93-year-old cyclone survivor, is seen, in Pyapon town, Delta region of Myanmar, Monday, May 26, 2008   (photo:AP)

Three weeks after the storm, survivors say they are being victimized again, by a military regime that has forced some to return to flooded, collapsed homes and others to labor on reconstruction projects. Continue reading

Photos: TIME-2

Photos: TIME-2

Time Magazine

Homeless refugee families

At Their Mercy
Refugees wait at a monastery in the town of Kyaiklat. With millions of U.S. aid dollars waiting in the wings, the government has said it will allow

Makeshift shelter at Thar Yar Wae village

Making Do
Over 200,000 people are thought to be living in makeshift shelters along the coast, like this one at Thar Yar Wae village near Bogalay.

Kyaiklat town

Pulling Together
People starting to rebuild on their own in Kyaiklat on May 9.

Monks go in procession to collect alms

Blind Faith
Monks go in procession to collect their daily alms in a village near Rangoon on May 11.

A destroyed home

A destroyed home lies in the water in a village near Rangoon on May 11.

Destroyed hut at Ta Lak Gyi village

Getting By
A man and his wife wade through the waters near their destroyed hut at Ta Lak Gyi village on May 8.

A sign urging citizens t be patriotic

True Believers
A sign urges citizens to be patriotic near the Shwe Maw Daw stupa in Bago on May 10. International agencies have called on China to exert its influence over the Burmese government to accept foreign aid and put a brake to the evolving disaster.

A body floats at the Irrawaddy river

A corpse floats at the Irrawaddy river front in the town of Bogalay.


Photos from TIME 1

                                                  Waiting to Save Burma


the Irrawaddy river

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

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

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

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.

Winds of Change

Winds of Change

Cyclone Nargis may have done more than just wreck Burma’s cities.

It may also spell doom for the government.

More PHOTOS in Newsweek

The Horror after the Rain

 Burma deaths spiral as aid is blocked

The massive storm that hit Burma on May 2 could not have come at a worse time for the generals who rule the country. As Cyclone Nargis raged toward them across the Indian Ocean, Burma’s military government was busy preparing for a referendum—originally scheduled for May 10—they hoped would ratify a new constitution legalizing military rule.

In fact, the generals were so preoccupied with making sure their new charter would pass smoothly that they played down urgent warnings from India and others of the impending cyclone, according to foreign wire reports. That delay would prove fatal to legions of their subjects who were caught unawares. Now, with roughly 17,330 square kilometers of Burma underwater and tens of thousands confirmed dead, the generals have reluctantly agreed to postpone balloting in two of the worst-hit provinces—but, incredibly, have insisted it will go as planned in the country’s north.

Yet even if the vote passes, the ruthless soldiers who have ruled this Asian state since 1962 may have made their final blunder—or at least started a process that will lead to their eventual downfall.

From Mexico City to Managua to the Middle Kingdom_

  • natural disasters in the past have had a way of undermining ruthless and incompetent leaders.
  • The process can take years.
  • But once set in motion, the forces unleashed by a destructive natural event—
  • and a ham-handed government response—can prove as unstoppable as an actual tsunami.

Just how badly Burma has suffered is still hard to determine, since the xenophobic and paranoid regime has accepted only a trickle of international aid and denied visas to virtually all foreign journalists. But the official count of the dead and missing already exceeded 60,000 as of this writing and was expected to grow. More than 1 million Burmese have lost their homes, and Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in the country, warned last week that the lack of food, medicine, clean water and other basic needs could bring the death toll to 100,000. World Food Program spokesperson Paul Risley said the victims’ needs were so vast that they’ve been like trying to fill a bathtub with an eyedropper.”

Meanwhile, the government seems to have gone missing in action.

  • The 400,000-strong military kept an unusually low profile last week, suggesting serious dysfunction at the top.
  • Sr. Gen. Tan Shwe, the nation’s leader, was nowhere to be seen.
  • Buddhist monks and nuns appeared to be spearheading community clean-up campaigns—
  • although state censors instructed the media to report only on military relief efforts.

But some troops seemed more concerned with social control than social welfare.

  • Instead of helping emergency services, for example,
  • some soldiers conducted surveillance of local NGO staffers who were offering free funeral services to the bereaved families, according to Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile and editor of The Irrawaddy, a Thai-based magazine about Burma.

“Burmese dissidents who planned to sabotage the [constitutional] election,” he says, “feel the cyclone has done their work for them” by driving ordinary Burmese into the arms of the opposition.

Many citizens in this superstitious country seem to believe that the storm represented nothing less than divine retribution—cosmic payback for the violent sacrilege committed by the junta last September, when the military put a bloody end to the “Saffron Revolution.” Crowds of monks had taken to the streets with an estimated 100,000 civilians to protest the country’s deepening economic hardships, including an abrupt fuel-price hike. The regime responded with fury, beating and imprisoning clerics and laypeople alike and killing as many as 138. Now many Burmese see the monster cyclone as proof that Than Shwe and his junta have lost the “mandate of heaven”—the supernatural right to govern.

Recent history shows that a similar process—sometimes minus the supernatural overtones—has occurred in other authoritarian states following major disasters. Such crises tend to underscore government incompetence and corruption, and stiffen resistance to already unpopular rulers.

That’s what happened in Mexico City in 1985. After a massive earthquake hit, the authorities and the country’s aloof president, Miguel de la Madrid, went AWOL for days, leaving citizens to organize rescue efforts themselves. When the president finally did appear, he initially announced that Mexico “didn’t need outside help.” With more than 10,000 estimated dead, survivors had quickly taken to the streets to denounce the government’s weak response. These protests energized a new crop of community activists and opposition leaders, lighting a spark that eventually brought down Mexico’s long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) years later.

An earthquake had a similar effect in Tangshan, China, in 1976. By the time that quake hit, killing up to 600,000, the Cultural Revolution was nearing its end, Mao was ailing and moderate leaders were already plotting to oust his most zealous accomplices. When the government then proceeded to badly fumble relief efforts— refusing international aid, among other things—it strengthened the hand of reformers who wanted to end China’s isolation. Three months later, Mao was dead, the extremist “Gang of Four” was behind bars and the reins of power were passing to Deng Xiaoping—now famous for his unabashed embrace of capitalism.

In each of these cases, the chain of events leading to political change was long and complicated, but the governments’ incompetence in the face of great tragedy helped tip the scales.

This slow-motion process occurred in Nicaragua, too, after a huge quake killed 20,000 in 1972. The country’s dictator, Anastasio Somoza, would hold on for seven more years before being overthrown by the Sandinistas. But the flagrant way Somoza siphoned off foreign assistance and profited from the reconstruction helped turn the business community against him—a shift that ultimately helped spell the dictator’s undoing.

One shouldn’t count out Burma’s leaders yet. The military has managed to cling to power for 46 years now, despite losing an election in 1990 to the party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who’s been under house arrest nearly ever since. And the regime has a ready reply to deny it has now lost its heavenly mandate. In 2005, heeding astrologers’ advice, the officers moved the country’s capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw, a hardscrabble town some 250 miles north. This location helped the new capital escape the worst of Nargis’s wrath—though of course it’s unclear whether this was a sign of blessing or just dumb luck.

Still, the generals must know that surviving a cyclone is one thing. Avoiding the human earthquake it provokes is a whole other matter.

With Jaimie Seaton in Bangkok, Tim Coone in Managua and Monica Campbell in Mexico City


PHOTOS: Devastating Aftermath of Cyclone Part 2

PHOTOS: Devastating Aftermath of Cyclone Part 2

ABC News


Flooded villages are seen in this aerial view near an airport in Yangon May 5, 2008, after Cyclone Nargis slammed into Myanmar’s main city Saturday, ripping off roofs, felling trees and raising fears of major casualties.
(Strringer/Reuters )


An aerial photo shows damage to rooftops of residential buildings in Yangon May 5, 2008.
(Stringer/Reuters )
Residents navigated the destruction, including a fallen advertising board along the Yangon streets after last weekend’s devastating cyclone, Sunday, May 4, 2008.
(AP Photo)
Western tourists make their way through fallen debris Sunday May 4, 2008, in Yangon, Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis.
(Barry Broman/AP Photo)

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, monks clear roads damaged by cyclone in Yangon Sunday.
(Zhang Yunfei/Xinhua/AP Photo)


More photos of Myanmar Cyclone victims

 More photos of Myanmar Cyclone victims

This photo taken on May 3, 2008 and received May 6...

This photo taken on May 3, 2008 and received May 6, 2008 shows a monk walking past branches covering the road after being blown down by winds from Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon. More than 15,000 people died after the powerful cyclone swept across Myanmar last weekend, including 10,000 in a single town, the military government announced on May 6, 2008 in state media.
3:50 a.m. ET, 5/6/08 MATT DAVIS / AFP/Getty Images

A woman donates money for the Myanmar cyclone disa...

A woman donates money for the Myanmar cyclone disaster, sponsored by a large food supermarketand organised together with the Hong Kong Red Cross on May 9, 2008. The Red Cross said that a chartered plane carrying five tonnes of emergency shelter equipment for cyclone victims in Myanmar has landed in Yangon. Myanmar state media has said nearly 23,000 people died and about 42,000 are missing after Cyclone Nargis swept through the country, but aid workers and embassy officials say the death toll could top 100,000. 4:00 a.m. ET, 5/9/08 LAURENT FIEVET / AFP/Getty Images

This photo received on May 7, 2008 and taken on Ma...

This photo received on May 7, 2008 and taken on May 3, 2008 from the Mizzima News shows people walking in water past an uprooted tree in Myanmar’s capital Yangon after the country was hit by cyclone Nargis on May 2-3. AFP / AFP/Getty Images

Residents collect water into tanks as they seek sa...

Residents collect water into tanks as they seek safe drinking water following devastating cyclone Nargis , in Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday, May 8, 2008. AP

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agen...

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, residents queue to get water after the cyclone in Yongon, Myanmar Monday, May 5, 2008. The storm has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and without clean drinking water, said a spokesman in Bangkok Thailand for the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Zhang Yunfei / AP

Cyclone-affected residents clean their belongings ...

Cyclone-affected residents clean their belongings along a street in Kungyangon in the outskirts of Yangon on May 8, 2008. The UN is to launch an urgent appeal to aid 1.5 million people affected by cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar last weekend, a spokeswoman said. KHIN MAUNG WIN / AFP/Getty Images


Myanmar worker clean up the ground at the Six Laye...

Myanmar worker clean up the ground at the Six Layer Pagoda damaged by cyclone Nargis in the outskirts of Yangon on Friday May 9, 2008.AP

Residents collect water and shower in Yangon on Ma...

Residents collect water and shower in Yangon on May 05, 2008. More than 10,000 people have been killed in a tropical cyclone that struck Myanmar at the weekend, Foreign Minister Nyan Win told state television, adding that his nation would welcome international aid. KHIN MAUNG WIN / AFP/Getty Images

German Red Cross staff Jens Huniat drives goods wi...

German Red Cross staff Jens Huniat drives goods with a forklift through the central stock of German Red Cross for humanitarian aid at Berlin Schoenefeld airport Friday, May 09, 2008. German Red Cross will sent the first aid transport with a mobile water and sanitation module to Myanmar next week for relief actions after the cyclone disaster. Sven Kaestner / AP

This undated handout photo released wednesday, May...

This undated handout photo released wednesday, May 7, 2008, by New Words shows a slogan written on a road over a bridge in Myanmar encouraging a no vote against a key referendum on a proposed constitution backed by the junta. State radio has said that Saturday’s vote would be delayed until May 24 in 40 of 45 townships in the Yangon area and seven in the Irrawaddy delta. But it indicated the balloting would proceed in other areas as scheduled. AP

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 13, 200...

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 13, 2005 shows a military C-130 plane flying by the Lakefront Airport as it sprays insecticide over parts of New Orleans, Louisiana, following the flood that engulfed the city. A US embassy spokesman said on May 8, 2008 that Myanmar will allow at least one C-130 transport plane to deliver US emergency aid to Yangon in the wake of the Cyclone Nargis disaster that has killed thousands, but Myanmar’s junta has shown no signs of accepting a wider international relief effort.      BRIAN SNYDER / AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar election officials give ballot papers to v...

Myanmar election officials give ballot papers to voters at a poll station for a referendum in Hlegu, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Yangon on Saturday May 10, 2008. Voters in Myanmar trickled into polling booths Saturday for a referendum that was expected to solidify the ruling junta’s hold on power, even though the military rulers appeared overwhelmed by a devastating cyclone that killed tens of thousands.

A Spanish worker shows hygiene family kits waiting...

A Spanish worker shows hygiene family kits waiting to be sent to Myanmar at military airport of Torrejon de Ardoz near Madrid on May 08, 2008. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched an emergency appeal for almost six million USD to help cyclone Nargis victims in Myanmar. ANGEL NAVARRETE / AFP/Getty Images