Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Near Kundangon
Villagers try advertising their need, on a road near Kundangon on May 11, 2008.
Photo: Reuters / stringer

new tropical cyclone appears to be forming, and heading straight into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta in the next 24 hours. (The Joint Typhoon Warning Center will either issue a formal warning or cancel the alert later tonight). News of the second cyclone has not been passed on by Burmese state-controlled media, but some residents have heard it on foreign radio broadcasts.

The junta has given permission for a Thai medical team to enter the delta on Friday. They will be the first foreign team allowed into that area. His Majesty the King spoke of the disaster last night, telling the workers of a charitable foundation under royal patronage that the Thais should do their best to help others, regardless of superficial differences. But, he said, hardship will prevail if people in need of aid did not receive assistance offered by other countries. He did not mention any particular country by name.

The Burmese authorities have consented to attending an emergency ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Singapore on Monday. Thai PM Samak left this morning on his off-again, on-again mission of persuasion to Nay Pyi Daw. I hope he has some luck finding the reclusive Senior General. Than Shwe isn't answering his phone.

Military familes are being helped before those who need it most, says a person close to airforce families at Mingaladon airbase, near Rangoon.
The anonymous woman told RFA as follows that some of the families from the Mingaladon airforce lost their roofs in the storm, and the engineering troops from GE unit put up new zinc sheets and made roofing and walls, as well as distributed food.

"They were distributing potatoes and tomatoes. If there were houses that got destroyed, they didn’t have to pay anything."
Time officially ran out for many refugees today. No more cluttering up monasteries and schools -- it gives the country a bad name!
According to that person [who had been privately distributing food], the storm victims staying in monasteries and schools were being chased out from these places, and the deadline was this coming Wednesday [May 14]. Therefore, those who have not rebuilt their houses were crying.
At refugee centres in other areas, this witness says the displaced have also been told to vacate the monasteries and schools by May 14. The order seems to apply to the entire country. She told RFA that the only rice seen in refugee camps is that given by private donors (when permitted). Food and clothing sent from abroad is not reaching them. Water purification supplies are very urgently needed.

Never before seen (in Burma) foods, donated by the international community, are not seen by the displaced cyclone survivors. But they are being seen by shoppers at City Mart. U Thuya has been organising private relief efforts, including food distribution and mobile medical services. In the areas they have been working, they've seen no sign of the foreign donations.
But the dried noodles that came from abroad, that we’ve never seen before, — you can now buy them at City Mart. Also, in Nyaung-bin-lay Market, I’ve seen cans of condensed milk that we’ve never seen before. These are the things donated by foreign countries. You can buy those packets of dried noodles. It’s 600 a packet. These dried-noodle packets were donated. I don’t know what happened that they didn’t get to the victims, but ended up in Nyaung-bin-lay Market and City Mart.
A resident of Bogalay, in the delta, said government officials are providing some roofing materials on credit. Payments will be collected later. Other donated materials are simply taken by government supporters, and sold.
"I want to state clearly that the aid given by foreign countries has not reached the public and refugees," the resident said.

"Plastic sheets and medicines have not reached the victims either, they are being sold outside," he said.

"The sheets are being sold by soldiers and members of Swann Arr Shin and the Union Solidarity and Development Association."
I'm getting tired of hearing about those guys. They'll beat peaceful demonstrators over the head, and seven months later they're stealing their relief.

In the devastated Labutta township, martial law has been (unofficially) declared. Outsiders are prohibited from entering the area, local people are banned from burying the dead, going to relatives in other villages, or even from searching for bodies (what possible justification for any of this?).
Fuel is very scarce. Although petrol was issued to township officials and SPDC members on the rescue team, they are only interested in salvaging flotsam, fishing pipes and other materials and making money from it.

If the local people need to go to other towns or villages to carry out important duties such as attending religious ceremonies for the dead, searching for the corpses of loved ones or going to the hospital, they have to hire a boat from the authorities, which costs 150,000 kyat. Then they will take people surreptitiously.
In Labutta, private local donors are also banned from giving help to the local victims.

Near Rangoon
A woman sits outside her home near Rangoon as men work on a shelter behind her, May 14, 2008.
Photo: Reuters / stringer
The re-selling of aid is becoming ubiquitous. A Rangoon resident told DVB that the military had been trying to sell the imported instant noodles out of army trucks at the city's Nyaung-bin-lay Market. The price must have been high; he says no one bought them.
"In Bogalay, you can buy raincoats donated by the UN, as many as you like for 8000 [kyat]. Rolls of tarpaulin can be bought in Bogalay’s Chinatown for 100,000 a roll. Merchants bought all 100 rolls straight away," he said.

"A shopkeeper who sold food to refugees in Bogalay on 4 May asked soldiers from Battalion 66 to help her keep order, but the soldiers took away all her merchandise and did not return it," he went on.

"Soldiers also took away all the goods from a boat that docked in Bogalay harbour after the storm and then sold them in the market four or five days later."
USDA goons are getting in on the action too of course, confiscating bottled water donated by local companies. Blankets and mosquito nets are given to civil servants, and in the case of the missing high-energy biscuits mentioned here yesterday, they may or may not still be in a military warehouse. But the poor quality replacements produced by the "Industry Ministry" have been slapped with labels proclaiming them "donated by the international community."

National League for Democracy's storm relief committee said they had bought many towels at a Rangoon market, for donating to refugees. When they got them back to their office, they found that they had been "donated by the people of Japan."

A British Royal Navy frigate will be joining French and American ships standing offshore in international waters, waiting to rush supplies into the delta whether by invitation or by orders. The US vessels are carrying more than 20 helicopters, as well as landing craft. PM Gordon Brown said Britain, as current chair of the Security Council, will be pushing for urgent action.
"We are determined to use our membership and, indeed, the chairmanship of the Security Council to push action forward in the next few days—indeed, in the next day."
Yet more confiscations of aid donations are also reported in that story. Authorities have converted six Myaungmya high schools into shelters, sealing them off so the refugees may not leave nor could outsiders enter.

Possible splits in the Burmese junta are now being detected.

It's been said that Senior General (dictator-in-chief) Than Shwe has viewed his successive prime ministers as postmen -- message deliverers. Current PM Thein Sein is said to have annoyed the big cheese by showing his softer side after witnessing the tragedy firsthand, and urging the boss to permit international aid into the area. He was "immediately stonewalled," and backed off. He hopes to retire soon.

A possible split was reported during the popular uprising last August - September, between the ostensible second in command, General Maung Aye, and his boss. But they were seen hanging out together for the referendum, so maybe they've patched it up. Than Shwe's apparent favourite had been the third biggest cheese, General Thura Shwe Mann, who is seen as being groomed as successor. He supported Than Shwe's hard line approach last year.

Now rumour has it that Shwe Mann supports the stance of Prime Minister Thein Sein.
Sources say Shwe Mann wanted aid flown in immediately. However, he was apparently unwilling to confront the commander in chief, Than Shwe.

Shwe Mann may be acting out of personal concerns. Two of his sons run Ayer Shwe Wah Company, selling fertilizer to farmers in the Irrawaddy delta. They also own a rice mill.

One of the Burmese businesses on the United States’ sanctions list, the Ayer Shwe Wah Company has approximately 30,000 acres of rice fields in the Irrawaddy delta and is a leading exporter of rice.
People from the Irrawaddy Delta area are said to be well-represented in the military, and these would obviously be strongly affected by the utter devastation there. If they can get their act together soon, and have at least a slight little regime change before the world is forced to barge right in, it would probably be the best outcome for the people currently in dire need. But any of the military men with consciences had better hurry, or they're liable to lose everything.


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