Thursday, May 22, 2008
WORLD'S TOP DIPLOMAT TRIES DIPLOMACY WITH JUNTA
ecretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon is now in Burma, expecting to meet with chief dictator Senior General Than Shwe with hopes of changing his mind about saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of his own people. It will be an uphill battle for the Korean diplomat.
Part of his itinerary for today was a tour of camps and shelters in the delta, but the survivors there say they hope he won't be visiting them. Strange?
Not with this military junta, it isn't. Wherever he goes, it will mean increased security and intimidation for those who still continually need to find food, water and shelter. The reality is in such sharp contrast with the televised propaganda, that reality must be altered to fit.
With another high-level visit on the way, cyclone survivors are saying "No more visits!" said Zarganar, who is now actively involved in the relief effort.Zarganar is Burma's best-known comedian, and heavily involved in the private relief efforts. A Burma analyst based here in Thailand, Aung Naing Oo, said that for the regime, security comes before assistance.
Before the arrival of any VIP guests, more soldiers are deployed and security guards clear roads, he said. Meanwhile, cyclone survivors who are already without sufficient food and relief supplies are now concerned that their rations will be cut because private donors will be unable to visit them during the UN secretary-general’s visit.
"The regime will clear roads and the surrounding areas when Ban is scheduled to visit," he said. "People who are begging from dawn to dusk will not get food or money to survive during his visit."Hopefully the Secretary General has some plugged-in advisors with him so he's made aware of this aspect to his visit. He was taken to Shwedagon today, and then flown by helicopter to selected sites in the delta. In a meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein, he was told that the junta's "relief phase" is now ending!
Actually, the "relief phase" hasn't even gotten properly started yet, with barely a quarter of those in dire need having received any help at all in the 20 days since the disaster began. But Ban was given a taste of the junta's priorities right off the bat.
Security for the secretary-general's visit was heavy, with dozens of armed riot police dotting the road from the airport into the city.To make sure there were no visible "beggars" around to be seen by important people, which would have been "disgraceful."
As described earlier, the military authorities have been evicting people from shelters set up in monasteries and schools in Bogalay, with the choice of either going back to their devastated (often non-existent) villages or going to camps with no help whatsoever.
On May 19, four boats transporting several dozen refugees back to their wiped out villages sank in a storm on the Irrawaddy River. It's not known how many, if any, were rescued. The refugees had originally travelled to Bogalay in search of food, shelter and water. Officials had given each family the equivalent of $20, and told them to return home.
The junta is cracking down once again on its beleaguered people. On May 18, residents of Kawhmu division in Rangoon lined up in the streets when private donors came to distribute aid.
"The local authorities said it was a disgrace for them to come out and beg like this, and the people said they were begging because they were starving," one Rangoon woman said.Eighty people were taken into custody, while 200 were sent to a local monastery which had not enough supplies to feed them. They were then moved to a school, which also had no food.
Local authorities in Rangoon have now used loudspeakers to warn all residents against going out in search of aid and have distributed posters saying that begging for aid is disgraceful, the woman said.If "begging" for aid is disgraceful, how much more disgraceful is refusing to accept the aid and manpower now waiting idle in Bangkok, or ready in massive quantities on ships now within sight of the devastation zone? The above-linked page has a video of current conditions in the delta.
For the Burmese junta, the "storm of plots and intrigues" facing the country is "much worse than the cyclone Nargis". The statements appear today in the state newspaper New Light of Myanmar, in an article that reiterates the denial of aid carried by the U.S. Navy. The warning expressed in the regime's newspaper refers to the accusations brought by the international community that the government is not responding adequately to the needs of the population. According to the newspaper, this is only a matter of "rumour storms created by certain Western countries and national traitors".As the UN Secretary General was arriving, the regime was arresting prominent opposition leaders. Last weekend, they apprehended nine local journalists in the delta and held them for interrogation. They were released after being forced to sign agreements never to come back.
Some parts of Rangoon had their electricity restored within a few days of the cyclone, after bribing electricity officials. But other areas are still without power; coincidentally enough, these are areas which were known to have supported the monks last September. Perhaps Mr. Ban could look into this.
Everyone from travel agents to comedians are pitching in with the ad hoc relief efforts, despite the junta's obstruction of even these modest efforts. And of course the Buddhist monkhood is once again showing who is really on the people's side.
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.People are seeking refuge wherever they can find some, such as an old wooden schoolhouse with its own roof partially blown off. But what nature didn't finish, the junta just might. That school is to be used as a polling station this weekend, and the refugees are being forced out.
The "referendum" is on for this Saturday in the Irrawaddy Delta and Rangoon; whatever happens won't affect the outcome, as the junta has already announced its overwhelming victory.
Tell these people about "victory."
In a big pavilion — a flat expanse of concrete under a green sheet roof — also on the outskirts of Yangon, dozens of homeless were packing up.A group of Burmese monks are in Jakarta to urge Indonesia to back a UN resolution allowing free flow of aid into their country.
About 100 old people and children put their stuffed canvas sacks and bags on the benches in the middle of the hall. Some people sat on the floor. Others were out on the road, waiting.
A half hour later, they were gone.
A green banner was being put up in front by men, apparently security personnel in plainclothes, along with polling tables inside.
One of the monks had fled the country after the violent crackdown last September, and described how he saw soldiers kicking the heads of other monks at Shwedagon Pagoda, and also witnessed three of the monks killed by the soldiers.
Another of the visiting delegation, which testified to a meeting of the Indonesian parliament's foreign affairs commission said around 10,000 monks were arrested during the crackdown, adding that the military junta is illegitimate and that Indonesia has some responsibility to help Burma's people in the present crisis by pushing for the UN resolution. And don't forget the last crisis, man-made and yet unfinished.
"The problem is we don't know many monks have been killed, we don't know how many monks are missing. What we know is thousands of monks are suffering in interrogation centers and forced labor camps across the country," he said.In Rangoon's South Dagon township a private donor came to give rice and clothing to cyclone victims on Tuesday night. Local authorities told the people they were only permitted to receive the assistance if they had the right "cards." A child asked for a "card" and had his hand broken as he was shoved out of the way. A dispute broke out.
"The people threatened to beat up [the authorities]. Then the Union Solidarity Development Association joined the authorities and beat the people up."Preparations had been made in Bogalay for the Secretary General's visit. While real cyclone victims lacking basic survival needs are forced to return to devastated villages, fake refugees are taking their place. A private donor who returned from the area said the same situation exists in other parts of the delta.
According to residents, three men and a pregnant woman were hospitalised in the fight.
When other refugees and ward residents surrounded the authorities, police and township officials were called to the scene, but the crowd refused to disperse.
The angry people eventually left after military forces were called in and imposed an 11pm curfew, reportedly telling residents that anyone who had not gone home by then would be arrested and shot.
"[The authorities] want to show the international community that there are no refugees here."The Secretary General has an appointment with Than Shwe tomorrow. On Saturday the regime will conduct its illegal-to-oppose "referendum" in the most devastated areas, which didn't vote on May 10. And on Sunday, a donors' pledging conference will be held in Rangoon -- the same day Aung San Suu Kyi's detention order is due to be renewed for another year.
The donor said they wanted the refugees out in time for United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the area.
"They are replacing them with fake refugees and when people do interviews, they let them see these people," she said.
"I saw them myself. They are paid at a rate of 1500 a day. They admitted to me that they are pretending to be refugees because they get the money."