Agam's Gecko
Monday, May 05, 2008
Cyclone Nargis damage
Residents of Rangoon work to clear the cyclone damage by themselves in the former Burmese capital on May 4, 2008
Photo: Democratic Voice of Burma

he severe cyclone that just plowed through Rangoon is showing up the complete ineptitude of Burma's military rulers. At least 350 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands left without shelter, even as reports from the hardest hit Haing Gyi island and the Irrawaddy Delta areas are still sketchy.

The junta appears to be totally paralyzed (likely all of them hunkered down hundreds of miles away in Nay Pyi Daw, their shiny and exclusive new capital, consulting with fortune tellers). The disaster comes only a few days before their sham constitutional referendum (and I apologize for neglecting this story lately). Will it go ahead, in the wake of all this death and destruction? State-run media says yes; I doubt it. In a country run by a deeply superstitious old loon like Than Shwe, Cyclone Nargis is the worst possible bad omen. It's almost as if the gods have sent it to stop their folly, since nothing else is working.
Some in Yangon complained the 400,000-strong military was doing little to help victims after Saturday's storm.

"Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?" said a trishaw driver who refused to be identified for fear of retribution. "They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity."
Buddhist monks and residents banded together today with axes and machetes to clear downed trees from the roads. Without help from their own dictators, or the junta's massive military forces (close to half a million in uniform), international help is urgently needed. A UN coordination team is on standby and ready to go, and any number of countries are ready, willing and able to help.

But the junta does not allow aid groups to operate freely, and this disaster doesn't seem to have changed that. Nobody still really knows the casualty figures in Burma during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Two days after Nargis struck, the junta in its bunkers has not formally responded to international offers of help.

Most of those who were killed are believed to be on Haing Gyi island, near the edge of the Irrawaddy Delta, and in the low-lying delta itself which was affected not only by the powerful cyclone's wind and rain, but by a large storm surge from the sea which flattened villages completely.

Journalists of the Democratic Voice of Burma are sending out photos and video, as they did during Burma's previous disaster (the junta's brutal murderous crackdown on citizens and monks last September). More news is also available from The Irrawaddy and Mizzima News.

And by the way, through all the past two months of the Tibet crisis, this is probably the most surprising thing I've read yet. When the Burmese uprising was taking place in late September last year, Chinese bloggers appear to have been solidly behind the Saffron Revolution. Read it in amazement, and in the knowledge of what happened just five and a half months later. Freedom for thee, but not for me?

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