Wednesday, May 14, 2008


A “government” in need of toppling

Stupidity at the top level of government isn’t limited to the United States.[1] The government of Burma — the military dictatorship that took over and calls it “Myanmar”[2] — is, beyond all sense and sensibility, refusing to allow most disaster-recovery assistance into the country:

YANGON, Myanmar — A trickle of aid shipments arrived in Myanmar on Sunday, more than a week after a powerful cyclone smashed the country, but the ruling military junta continued to bar major shipments to more than a million of the storm’s hard-hit survivors.

The junta is also continuing to deny entry to foreign aid workers, who relief officials say are needed to prevent more deaths.

How restrictive are they being? Well:
The United Nations World Food Program said that only one visa had been approved out of 16 it had requested and the aid group World Vision said it had requested 20 visas but received two.

The United States has put its navy in international waters in the area, ready to help if the proferred help is accepted. So far, it has not been.

OK, they’re reluctant to trust outsiders. But even more bizarrely, the government is turning away help from within as well:

MA NGAY GYI, Myanmar — When one of Myanmar’s best-known movie stars, Kyaw Dhyu, traveled through the Irrawaddy Delta in recent days to deliver aid to the victims of the May 3 cyclone, a military patrol stopped him as he was handing out bags of rice.

“The officer told him, ‘You cannot give directly to the people,” said Tin Win, the village headman of the stricken city of Dedaye, who had been counting on the rice to feed 260 refugees who sleep in a large Buddhist prayer hall.

Ah, but it’s not so bizarre — disturbing, but not bizarre. It’s the common problem of government taking the recovery supplies for itself, or for profit:

Even Myanmar citizens who want to donate rice or other items have in several cases been told that all assistance must be channeled through the military. That restriction has angered local government officials like Tin Win who are trying to help rebuild the lives of villagers. He twitched with rage as he described the rice the military gave him.

“They gave us four bags,” he said. “The rice is rotten — even the pigs and dogs wouldn’t eat it.”

He said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had delivered good rice to the local military leaders last week but they kept it for themselves and distributed the waterlogged, musty rice. “I’m very angry,” he said, adding an expletive to describe the military.

Privately, some residents showed flashes of resentment toward the military for monopolizing the distribution of basic necessities. “These military men are notorious,” said a college student in Yangon whose family had to buy seven panels of corrugated tin to repair their roof. “They get these supplies free. They are donated by other countries, then the military receives them and sells them to the people.”

They’re also preventing people from helping if those offering the help are not favourites of the government. No setting aside of animosity during a disaster for them.

I’m just disgusted.

[In contrast, the normally secretive Chinese government is being very open about the recovery effort for the recent earthquake.]

Update, 8:20 a.m.: Some Myanmar Aid Reportedly Stolen

YANGON, Myanmar — The directors of several relief organizations in Myanmar said Wednesday that some of the international aid arriving into the country for the victims of Cyclone Nargis was being stolen, diverted or warehoused by the military.


The aid directors declined to be quoted directly on their concerns for fear of angering the ruling junta and jeopardizing their operations, although Marcel Wagner, country director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, confirmed that aid was being diverted by the army.

He also said it was going to be a growing problem, although he declined to give any further details because of the sensitivity of the situation.

[1] Yes, I had to get that dig in.

[2] And, oddly, the U.S. government recognizes the name change. We usually do not officially recognize such changes made by juntas and provisional governments, and the U.K. and France still use “Burma”.

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