Where are Burma’s neighbours?

In the days since Cyclone Nargis passed through Burma on May 2 and 3, bringing a tidal surge with it to the delta region that has literally swept away hundreds of villages, it has become painfully obvious that the country’s government is completely unable to deal with what has happened.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, local residents in somewhat affected areas, including Rangoon, banded together to do everything from clearing roads to distributing emergency supplies of water and food. In many rural areas, monks have taken charge as thousands of people have converged on monasteries, which are among the sturdiest buildings and which often have stockpiles of donated wood, food and other necessities.

The lack of any official presence in these parts has been striking in a country where government agents, in and out of uniform, are normally omnipresent. But the absurdity, ineptitude and persistent greed that characterize so much administrative conduct in Burma have in some areas become most apparent after soldiers, police and bureaucrats have finally turned up.

In one part of Rangoon, a fistfight reportedly broke out when outraged locals saw that water tankers were delivering supplies to the homes of council members and military officers but not to anyone else.

At Pazundaung, a unit of soldiers went to nearby houses to ask for machetes with which to cut fallen trees. Their commander demanded a car to oversee his men and shopkeepers were called upon to give chains with which to drag timber from the road.

In the worst affected areas, flattened villages and ruined crops are still littered with bodies and not a single person has turned up to assist. Many places, such as Laputta, remain partly submerged and the numbers of the dead and missing not yet entered into the daily rising tallies.

So where are Burma’s neighbors? Not long after the storm struck, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s secretary-general, the former foreign minister of Thailand, Surin Pitsuwan, called on the other nine member states to give generously, and hoped the same of its partners, which include heavyweights China, South Korea and Japan. (See news of his latest statement.)

His appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The amount of assistance so far offered from all of these countries has been paltry, to put it kindly: limited to some bundles of cash to government bank accounts and a few planeloads of supplies, or in India’s case, a couple of boatloads; given the size of the disaster, hardly worthy of comment.

The absence of any significant response from China, India, South Korea, Japan and Thailand is shocking. China and India have been vying over the country for both strategic and economic reasons for years; Japan and South Korea have longstanding business and personal links, and the distance from thriving Bangkok to the worst-affected areas is less than that from most other parts of Burma. Yet none have demonstrated any meaningful will to assist in the recovery, and have so far limited themselves to token gestures.

The trivial amount of support extended to a country that is half paralyzed and facing the prospect of both famine and epidemic disease is in marked contrast to that which followed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the effects of which were comparable in scale to Cyclone Nargis but spread over a wider area. Then, people from affected countries were the recipients of enormous amounts of goodwill and assistance from all over the world and from within the region.

The tsunami recovery work went well beyond flying a few planeloads of supplies into the hands of waiting officials and going home. It envisaged rebuilding with a view to better preparing for similar future events. It included the giving of training and gear to build up a corpus of specialized people and equipment in Thailand and Indonesia especially.

So why haven’t these people or their stuff been sent to Burma? Perhaps the governments responsible will excuse themselves by pointing out that, among other things, there have been delays in the granting of visas for United Nations rescue coordinating staff, as the military is chary to have too many persons nosing around its country from all sorts of backgrounds and whom it can’t readily control. This not least of all as it insists upon going ahead with the charade of a constitutional referendum in most parts of the country this Saturday, including many that the storm hit.

But this is no excuse, because people coming through bilateral arrangements from the Philippines or Korea, for instance, will not encounter the same size and number of obstacles as those put before international agencies and Western prospective donors. It is exactly for this reason that these countries have such an important lead role to play; one that they have thus far disregarded.

A team of medical specialists dispatched from Beijing under government auspices would be highly unlikely to encounter the same sort of resistance that a similarly skilled and equipped team from the United States would meet. A group of Thai engineers will not find the same sorts of difficulties in getting into Burma and moving around it as a group from Paris or Brussels. And anyhow, they are only a one-hour flight away.

At a time that ASEAN is supposedly transforming itself from a security-cum-economic bloc into something more substantive, at a time that China is struggling to show itself off to the world in advance of an already embattled Olympics, at a time that India is insisting upon a seat at the U.N. Security Council as a new world power, if these countries together keep dragging their feet and fail to act energetically to help millions of people within a stone’s throw of their borders, then shame on them, and woe to everything that they falsely claim to represent.

Source: Where are Burma’s neighbours?

See further: International aid contributions, The Irrawaddy


16 responses to “Where are Burma’s neighbours?

  1. Donors’ list, in US dollars (according to Mizzima, at May 9: download spreadsheet)

    (10 Million) UK
    (5 Million) UN (OCHA)
    (3.5 Million) United States of America
    (3.1 Million) European Union
    (3 Million) Australia
    (2.5 Million) Sweden
    (2 Million) Canada
    (2 Million) Norway
    (1 Million) China
    (1 Million) Indonesia

    (775,000) Germany
    (775,000) Spain
    (475,000) Switzerland
    (400,000) Thailand
    (309,000) France
    (309,000) Netherland
    (270,000) Japan
    (200,000) Singapore
    (200,000) Greece
    (190,000) Swiss Red Cross
    (154,000) Czech
    (103,600) Denmark

  2. An Open Letter to the ASEAN Secretary-General by the Asian Human Rights Commission
    May 9, 2008, AHRC-OLT-014-2008

    Surin Pitsuwan
    Secretary General
    ASEAN Secretariat
    70A, Jalan Sisingamangaraja
    Jakarta 12110

    Fax : +62 21 7398234/ 7243504
    Email: termsak@aseansec.org, lina@aseansec.org

    Dear Dr. Surin

    ASIA: ASEAN’s survival too depends on its cyclone response

    The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has, like you, watched with great alarm at the spiralling effects of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (Burma) and the apparent inability of the global community, despite good efforts, to respond effectively to what is evidently a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions: unprecedented, because the long-term consequences may exceed even the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, due to the damage caused to rice and other crops and the implications of this not only for Myanmar but for all of Asia.

    It is at times like these that the capacity of international and regional organisations is sorely tested. Those that rise to the immense challenges presented prove relevant and remain important in the long run. Those that fail to meet the challenges lose credibility and influence, and ultimately pass away entirely.

    So it is for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is one of the ten member states. While the AHRC welcomes your calls for help to come from members and around the world to support the recovery effort, as well as other small initiatives that you have taken, such as the setting up of an emergency fund to receive assistance from private foundations and individuals, it need not be said that ASEAN’s response has so far fallen very far short of its capacity, and much farther short of what is needed and should be expected of it at this time.

    That ASEAN can and must do much more is obvious. A number of members individually have to show greater efforts.

    To begin with, Thailand, which has its longest border with Myanmar, and abundant financial and material resources as well as skilled people, must play a lead role not only as a halfway house for aid sent by other countries but also in its own right. The government of Thailand has so far apparently not fully grasped the implications for its own country of failing to help significantly in rescuing Myanmar. Yet if the catastrophe is prolonged and millions are pushed into famine or utter poverty, the consequences will certainly be felt across its borders for years, decades to come.

    Singapore and Malaysia are two ASEAN members with established business links in Myanmar and robust economies that should be making much stronger financial contributions than they have so far. That the amounts of aid that they have offered pale by comparison to those of European countries should be a cause for shame of their governments and indignation among the citizens of these states who would certainly expect better of their neighbours were they the ones left starving and homeless today. Brunei also is a wealthy country that has failed to show generosity towards the cyclone’s victims.

    Indonesia and the Philippines too have wide experience in handling calamities of this sort, and a great deal of effort was spent training people in the former country especially in the aftermath of the tsunami. Where are those people, their knowledge and equipment, when Myanmar needs them?

    But above all, ASEAN’s most important role must be as a group, under your leadership, in exerting all pressure on the government of Myanmar to accept assistance offered without, as you have reportedly said, “picking and choosing”. This is, you know very well, no time for picking and choosing. The countless thousands of people whose lives hang in the balance today have no opportunity to pick and choose. Either they get the assistance they need, now, or they die. This much is clear, despite the difficulties of getting detailed reliable information from many affected zones.

    It is thus unacceptable for ASEAN to defer and sidestep by saying that diplomatic efforts have been tried and have not worked as expected. The fact is that the regime in Myanmar cannot ignore the combined efforts of ASEAN and other regional partners of the grouping, especially China, India and Japan, if indeed no effort is spared to get it to acknowledge and respond to the suffering of its people. The fact also is that the world is looking to ASEAN and these dialogue partners to play this role. So too is the Asian Human Rights Commission.

    The obstacles that exist between the aid sitting in Bangkok and elsewhere and the people who need it in Myanmar are more imaginary than real, more a result of inadequate trying than that they are somehow insurmountable. There can be no ifs or buts, no picking and choosing: ASEAN must, especially having taken Myanmar on as a member state, stand up to the challenges put before it by Cyclone Nargis and succeed.

    This is, whether you like it or not, a life and death struggle not only for millions in Myanmar but for ASEAN itself. Failure is this time unthinkable. ASEAN failed those millions last year at their time of need when they rose up to demand change in their country of the sort that had it occurred may have averted the worst effects of this cyclone. Because of the political dimensions to their plea for help, ASEAN could hide behind excuses that were palatable at least for its members and some in the international community. But, Dr. Pitsuwan, there will be no excuses to hide behind this time around.

    Yours sincerely

    Basil Fernando
    Executive Director
    Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong


    BURMA: Colossal humanitarian crisis demands a far more resolute response from the global community and domestic government
    Asian Human Rights Commission
    AHRC-STM-125-2008, May 9, 2008

    From the very scanty news that has reached the global media it is already clear that a human catastrophe of the highest category is taking place in Burma. Some figures indicate that the numbers of deaths known so far may be around 200,000. In one area alone around 80,000 people are dead. By all indications there is not only an absence of anything that may be called an adequate response but there is a visible inability to make a coordinated and well organised response to this tragedy.

    From the sheer numbers and from a purely humanitarian point of view this tragedy compares with the worst seen in the region and, in fact, globally. However, what is missing even when we compare it to the tsunami which affected several countries in Asia on December 26, 2004, is a quick and efficient response with a moral determination that is equal to deal with the tragedy. The type of neglect we see in Burma is one that will kill more and more persons who can be saved and who can be helped.

    Though not equal to the proportion of the tragedy, there has been a significant response from the global community and also from the neighbours. No doubt far more needs to be done within the shortest time possible. However, the main obstacle to dealing with the tragedy comes from Burma’s military ruling regime. Initially the regime was not even willing to admit the tragedy and later tried to minimize it. Whether this was done simply because of the very nature of the inward looking regime, which does not possess sufficient capacity to generate an information flow about actual social conditions of the people or whether they were suppressing the information that they possess is not really the issue. Now that the partial information available reveals a tragedy of the worst proportions there is no political or moral justification to obstruct any and every form of intervention to save lives.

    The unwillingness of the regime should not be taken as an excuse by the global community to allow the situation to degenerate and to allow more people to die or suffer when, in fact, it is possible to prevent it. It is just a question of the level of pressure that needs to be applied on a regime by everyone including the friends of the regime. China and India have an irrefutable moral and political obligation to intervene with the regime and to do so with effective pressure to change this situation. It is also the duty of other powerful neighbours in the region such as Thailand, South Korea and Japan not to spare any effort to get space for humanitarian assistance. The mere verbal football of making accusations of non-cooperation by the regime is inexcusable under the present circumstances.

    In fact, the world’s diplomatic community faces a serious moral challenge in Burma. Has it the capacity and the will, at least, to make a meaningful intervention in a moment of the worst human tragedies that has arisen out a natural disaster. Can the factor of the absence of political will on the part of the existing regime be dealt with effectively by quick and strong diplomacy? Of course this challenge will also test the United Nations capacity to deal with this humanitarian crisis.

    It is time once again for the global media to demonstrate that in the time of crises like this, the media has the highest potential of making the difference. Even the limited information we now have reveals the appalling and outrageous events that have taken place in the country. With more information it is very likely that the world will respond even more generously to deal with this crisis and also to bring political and moral pressure on the Burmese regime to respond to the sufferings of the people.

  3. Well, the neighbors can only do so much with what very little communications they have with the Burmese government. When the Indian ships started off, they did not even have an idea of where to dock and even after almost a week such confusion is rife.

  4. Preetam — communication or technical problems are exaggerated. The real problem is lack of genuine will in the government of India and others. But in India’s case, as the authorities lack genuine will to feed their own people it is perhaps unsurprising that the same is lacking when others are in jeopardy.

  5. I believe that the people and governments of the world, as well as the various aid organisations, will, and have, donated large amounts of money and resources to help the people of Burma. When other disasters occur in other countries, the aid response if usually rapid, subject to political and military conditions. From what I see on TV, it seems that it is the Burmese junta that is blocking any relief effort. Nobody wants to see people die, and the Burmese generals need to wake up to the fact that the outside world wants to welcome and help the Burmese people into the global community. When this happens, obviously the generals will be removed from power, and possibly tried for crimes against humanity – this is the source of their extreme paranoia, even in the face of such a catastrophe. Don’t believe what the junta tells you.

  6. Aid for Burma
    Bangkok Post, 17 May 2008

    A royal-sponsored advance team of Thai doctors spent Friday in Burma to prepare the way for a full-fledged humanitarian medical aid mission to the victims of the May 2 cyclone. On the 14th day of the disaster, the military junta said the official death toll has climbed to 43,318, certainly a vast understatement, and authorities continue to block and harass aid efforts.

    The full Thai medical team is to leave for Burma on Saturday for two weeks of hard work among the worst-hit storm victims. for their humanitarian mission before another team of the royal medical unit will start work on Saturday.

    On Friday, the advance team prepared accommodation, food and other expenses so the doctors could hit the ground working on Saturday.

    Permanent Secretary for Public Health Dr Prat Boonyawongvirote led the advance team of doctors to Burma on Friday. The full team comprises 30 physicians from the royal mobile medical unit.

    The royal medical team will also bring ten tonnes of medicine and medical supplies. Doctors with a wide variety of specialties will focus on providing medical treatment to help cyclone victims.

    Dr Prat said that the Thai mobile medical unit plans to enter the Irrawaddy River Delta, which was worst hit by Cyclone Nargis for their two-week mission. The team won’t set up a makeshift hospital but will move to several areas to give medical access to cyclone victims.

    In addition to direct basic medical services, Department of Mental Health director general Dr Watchara Pengchan will share information and treatment experience on Thailand’s response to tsunami victims to Burmese doctors trying to alleviate the psychological and emotional problems of the storm survivors.

    Junta-controlled Burma TV reported on Friday that in addition to the confirmed death toll of 43,318 people, another 1,403 were injured and 27,838 remained missing. Aid missions in Burma and Thailand believe the true death toll is closer to the 130,000 estimated by the Red Cross.

    The military authorities continued to work to frustrate aid attempts with government red tape and denied access, aid organisation representatives said at a joint press conference Friday in Bangkok.

    Nevertheless, “Aid is getting though,” said Steve Marshal of UNCT Myanmar and ILO liaison officer. Marshal recently returned from Burma.

    There are major problems related to warehousing and transportation, he said, including the roads that are unable be used by vehicles weighing more than six tonnes, which slows the moving of relief goods and increases the need for warehousing that is also in short supply.

    Marshal said the government was using six helicopters, each doing four return flights a day, each with 1-tonne capacity.

    Burma has refused all offers of help from the Thai and US military, which has helicopters and other aircraft on standby in case they can aid the stricken Burmese.

    “Our staff are down there and they are working. Things are happening, (but) not enough. We need more people, we need more cooperation,” Marshal said.

    Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), emphasised that point.

    “Up to two-and-a-half million are in need of aid,” she said. “Clearly, needs are not being met.” (BangkokPost.com from reports by TNA, dpa)


    India sends doctors to Burma
    By Sanjoy Majumder, BBC News, Delhi

    A team of 50 Indian medical personnel is being sent to Burma to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis, following a request by the country’s military regime.

    An Indian Air Force transport aircraft is being sent to the capital Rangoon on Saturday carrying a team of doctors and medical supplies.

    Despite mounting international pressure, the Burmese government has mostly refused access to foreign aid workers.

    But India has close ties to the Burmese junta – one reason why its offer may have been accepted.

    “The request was made by the Myanmar government to our Ministry of External Affairs which in turn passed it on to the Ministry of Defence,” says Wing Commander Manish Gandhi of the Indian Air Force.

    Even as he spoke, a giant IL-76 military transport aircraft was being prepared for the mission at Delhi’s Palam Air Force base.

    ‘Vastly experienced’

    Several olive green military trucks were backed up to the rear of the aircraft and a team of soldiers was unloading crates of medicines, supplies and food.

    “They’re carrying approximately six tonnes of medicines today,” says Wing Commander Gandhi.

    “Once they reach Rangoon, they will be divided into two teams which will set up two mini-hospitals, independent of each other.”

    The team is expected to be deployed in the flood-hit Irrawaddy delta and has been drawn from the Indian armed forces.

    Officials say they are vastly experienced in disaster management, having worked in similar situations in India.

    India is one of the few countries which have been allowed to send aid to Burma.

    Already, two Indian navy ships and five aircraft have delivered several shipments of food, clothes, medicines and tents. But until now they were only allowed to hand over the aid to the Burmese military authorities.

    India has forged a close economic and military relationship with Burma over the years and is one of the few countries which has opposed calls for sanctions against the country.

    This is possibly the main reason why the Burmese government has been less reluctant to accept its help.

  7. China Backs Myanmar in Resisting Demands to Take Aid (Update3)
    By Demian McLean

    May 17 (Bloomberg) — China is backing Myanmar as it resists pressure from the U.S. and other nations to admit more relief workers and supplies to help as many as 2.5 million cyclone victims at risk of disease and hunger.

    Other countries must show “due respect” to Myanmar, said Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, at a briefing yesterday. “Myanmar is a sovereign country. In the end, rescue and relief work will have to rely on the Myanmar government and people.”

    Wang’s comment was the clearest response yet to international pleas urging the neighboring country to open its doors wider to help. China may resent Western interference so close to home, particularly in Myanmar, which is poised to become a major supplier of energy to the Chinese economy, analysts say.

    Cyclone Nargis may have left as many as a half-million children in Myanmar in need of help, according to the Christian charity World Vision. Since the storm struck on May 3, the regime has barred most foreign relief workers, rejected offers of helicopters and boats, and accepted only a trickle of the aid offered by the world.

    Wang spoke at a news conference about China’s own natural disaster, a May 12 earthquake that killed more than 22,000 people.

    More Flights

    Four more U.S. C-130 cargo planes landed in the Myanmar city of Yangon yesterday, and the contents of two of them were handed to charities instead of the regime, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in Washington. He said it was the first time the U.S. has been able to ensure that aid has gone directly to international humanitarian groups in the country, formerly known as Burma.

    At least four more U.S. relief flights are planned for today and tomorrow, McCormack said. About 10 Red Cross planes have arrived in the past week, with supplies distributed by locals.

    United Nations emergency-relief coordinator John Holmes, who is due to arrive in Myanmar tomorrow to help expedite aid delivery, said this week that between 1.6 million and 2.5 million people have been “severely affected” by the cyclone and need help. The death toll from the storm has reached almost 78,000, the Associated Press cited state television as saying. An additional 56,000 people are missing.

    Travel Restrictions

    The junta insists it can cope with the disaster itself and is stopping international relief workers from traveling from Yangon to the delta region struck by the cyclone, Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, said by telephone from the former capital.

    “They’re very, very efficient at stopping” aid workers, he said. “If there was equal efficiency in delivering aid we’d be pleased.”

    France’s envoy to the UN said yesterday that the Myanmar government’s resistance to delivery of aid is close to becoming criminal negligence that would allow for forceful intervention.

    “We are shifting from a situation of non-assistance to people in need to a situation that could lead to a true crime against humanity if we go on like that,” Ambassador Jean- Maurice Ripert told reporters after a meeting of the UN General Assembly. “The time is no more for academic quarrels. People are dying every day. We want action.”

    Ripert said France will press for Security Council action next week.

    U.S. Stance

    The U.S. isn’t endorsing measures beyond diplomatic efforts at persuading the regime to accept more help.

    “We’re going to keep working the politics of this in the hopes that we can get more aid and, importantly, expertise down to those areas,” McCormack said.

    The cyclone is the worst natural disaster to hit Southeast Asia since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 220,000 people.

    China’s view on international involvement in disaster relief is rooted in its historical experience, according to one analyst.

    “China would never endorse a precedent of someone flying or sailing into someone else’s country, no matter how good the intentions,” said Richard Cronin, head of the Asian Political Economy program at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington. “Memories of Europeans walking in and taking Chinese territory in the 19th century are very much alive.”

    Natural Gas

    In December, China won the rights to buy natural gas from Myanmar’s biggest field, beating out India.

    “Myanmar is part of China’s strategy to become less dependent on oil” transported on a lengthy route through the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, Cronin said.

    China helped block French and U.S.-led efforts to discuss Myanmar’s resistance to granting visas to aid workers last week in the UN Security Council. In 2006 and 2007, China opposed efforts to discuss the Myanmar crackdown on political opponents in the council.

    Foreign ministers representing the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Thailand and Myanmar, are meeting next week in Singapore to discuss ways to get more assistance into the devastated areas. The group will have to overcome internal divisions that have prevented it from taking a tougher line against the Myanmar regime on human rights abuses.

    `Defining Moment’

    While Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan on May 14 called the response to the catastrophe a “defining moment” for the organization, Singapore’s ambassador to the U.S., Chan Heng Chee, cautioned that the issue will be difficult.

    “Myanmar should not be made the litmus test of the effectiveness of Asean,” she told an audience of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, where Pitsuwan was speaking.

    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been among the most vocal world leaders in criticizing Myanmar’s rulers. Brown told Parliament on May 14 that the regime was fomenting “a man-made catastrophe” and urged it to open its borders to aid.

    Brown resisted calls from the opposition Conservatives to set a deadline for invoking the UN’s “responsibility to protect” clause, citing private aid groups who said air- dropping relief would be ineffective and a “distraction.”

    China Welcomed Workers

    In coping with its own disaster, China has welcomed foreign teams of relief workers, which have come from nearby countries such as Russia, Singapore and Japan, Wang said.

    In Myanmar, donated food, water and supplies have been accepted, with the provision that the military distribute them in almost all cases.

    “International aid workers need unrestricted access to the disaster area and have to be able to work unhindered,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said this week. “We’re asking the government of Myanmar to finally ensure this to the fullest extent.”

    The first German flight reached Yangon on May 15, carrying six water-purification systems that can supply 40,000 people daily.

    A French naval vessel loaded with 1,500 tons of food, shelter and medicine is set to arrive today off Myanmar’s coast and would have the small boats and helicopters deliver aid with or without the government’s agreement, Ripert said.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Demian McLean in Washington at dmclean8@bloomberg.net

    Last Updated: May 16, 2008 18:43 EDT

  8. Asean to Handle Foreign Aid for Burma
    By EILEEN NG / AP WRITER / SINGAPORE Monday, May 19, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Southeast Asia’s regional bloc will set up a task force to handle distribution of foreign aid for cyclone victims in Burma, which estimates losses from the killer storm to exceed US $10 billion, Singapore’s foreign minister said Monday.

    An emergency meeting of foreign ministers from the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations decided that the bloc will work with the UN to hold a donor conference in Rangoon on May 25, Minister George Yeo told reporters.

    In a major concession after being slammed for blocking foreign aid, Burma also agreed to open its doors to medical teams from all Asean countries, Yeo said.

    At least 134,000 people were killed or left missing in the May 2-3 cyclone, and another 2.5 million people are living in poor conditions, most of them without shelter, enough food, drinking water or medical care.

    Yeo said the ministerial meeting, which included Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win, agreed to set up an Asean-led task force for redistributing foreign aid. Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuan will go to Burma soon for planning.

    “This mechanism will facilitate the effective distribution and utilization of assistance from the international community, including the expeditious and effective deployment of relief workers, especially health and medical personnel,” he told a news conference.

    “Myanmar [Burma] is also prepared to accept the expertise of international and regional agencies to help in its rehabilitation efforts,” Yeo said.

    But he indicated that this does not mean the junta will open its doors to foreign experts immediately, which aid agencies and the United Nations say is required immediately.

    They say millions of lives are at risk because Burma does not have the infrastructure, expertise and logistics to handle a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude.

    Yeo said the task force will consider specific offers of help.

    “There will not be an uncontrolled entry of foreign personnel into Myanmar.”

    Yeo said Nyan Win told the meeting that losses are expected to be “well over US$10 billion.”

    The bloc hopes to raise funds for Burma at the May 25 meeting and will also work closely with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank on aid packages.

    Suggestions that foreign ships carrying aid make a forced entry into Burma were also rejected.

    “That will create unnecessary complication. It will only lead to more suffering for Myanmar people,” he said.

  9. It’s quite easy for Western nations to roundly criticize the Junta’s reluctance to accept their aid.
    But they should understand that it as easy for Asian’s to see through their goody-goody concerned, sympathetic stance. Myanmar has reserves of oil,gas and other minerals aplenty and therein may lie the interests of these so called sympathetic nations. It’s shameful how these countries carry on with their neo-colonial raving and ranting. There was no-one to criticize or give opinions when the genocide happened in Rwanda and it doesn’t need a rocket scientist to understand why. Rwanda does not have anything of interest for these nations. And there was no one to criticize the aggressor when a certain gulf nation was wrongfully invaded under a false pretext. It’s true, Myanmar’s people are needlessly suffering. If these nations are so concerned, why don’t they pool in their aid offerings with countries granted access into Myanmar?

  10. “And there was no one to criticize the aggressor when a certain gulf nation was wrongfully invaded under a false pretext.”

    Are you sure? I heard a lot of protests from all over the globe, including the US and UK.

    “If these nations are so concerned, why don’t they pool in their aid offerings with countries granted access into Myanmar?”

    They are doing so now. But I personally have no confidence that aid will get into the right hands if distribution is not carefully monitored.

    And I do think Myanmar is more than just about western exploitation of resources. Governments still have to pay for what they get – only under the current regime, none of these payments get to the people. The generals take everything, with no regard for their fellow countrymen.

    The west does business with China, and the benefits are (slowly) trickling down to the general population. Standards of living will rise for the Chinese people.

    Whoever keeps the proceeds, the West will still have to pay.

    The sickness of the Myanmar “government” is that despite the country being incredibly rich in resources, it’s one of the poorest in the world.

    The generals hate the US because it threatens their power – not because the US wants to invade and steal their resources.

    At work, one of my colleagues had a friend at school whose father was a Myanmar general. He said his house was amazing – huge and grand on a lavish scale.

    Now that’s just wrong, when most people in Myanmar try to survive on less than a dollar a day (without the current disaster).

    There is no defense for the junta.

    None whatsoever. And bashing the West won’t change that.

  11. “There is no defense for the junta” – Absolutely agree with you. The human tragedy happening there is heart rending. But shouldn’t you (at least the US) clean up their own act before pointing fingers? (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the countless civilian lives lost in Iraq, the shameless support for Israeli aggression on Palestinians who have been thrown out of their land and deprived of even basic living conditions)..

    “Whoever keeps the proceeds, the West will still have to pay”
    The West is paying for what it gets, there’s no charity going on here. And didn’t the West bring this upon themselves? Let’s face it – it’s not the West’s overwhelming sympathy for poor Asian countries that got them to trade..it’s their greed for more and more goods at lower costs (aka capitalism). The West has become a victim of its own idealogies.

    “Are you sure? I heard a lot of protests from all over the globe, including the US and UK”
    So by just protesting, other rich countries are now entitled to take the moral high ground, eh? But Myanmar and Cuba have to live with sanctions and more for more or less the same crime. What the US is doing in Iraq, Palestine (through Proxy), its secret prisons all across the world is as bad as what the junta is doing in Myanmar.

  12. I don’t want to take over this blog, but discussion is good.

    The protests I mentioned were those of regular people in the street, not governments. The anti-Iraq war voice is growing stronger now that the Bush/Cheney American-patriots-must-support-the-troops-war-on-terror jingoism has failed as people see the stupidity and waste of the killing.

    Governments will always do what governments do. But, hopefully, voters can make their views known in enough numbers to influence policy (not easy or guaranteed, of course).

    My point about who pays for what is simply that Western powers will buy from whoever’s selling, even bloodthirsty and brutal tyrants. If Myanmar were a peaceful and free democracy, they would still buy. The problem is that many governments, businesses, and by extension western consumers, are willing to turn a blind eye (at best) and collude with (at worst) such atrocities to get what they want.

    I buy my cheap goods made in China, and complain about the lack of freedom and abuse of human rights there. Yes, hypocritical. But we can’t change the world individually. In the case of countries like China, it’s likely that good ol’ capitalism will start to change things, slowly. In the case of Myanmar, where generals seem prepared to destroy their own countrymen in their lust for wealth and power, it may take something more.

    Would you support a military invasion of Myanmar, or would that just be another example of Western imperialism and needless loss of life? Just curious.

  13. My apologies to Awzar Thi for steering this discussion away from what was originally being discussed.

    I wouldn’t support a military invasion in Myanmar and it’s not because of my admiration for the generals or their work. I believe we still haven’t learnt from past mistakes – brute force is no way to tackle such an issue. If the world’s most powerful nation has failed twice (Vietnam and now Iraq), what level of confidence do we have that we will succeed in Myanmar? We thought (at least i did) that Iraqis were being saved from a tyrant (Saddam) and they would be happy for it. Yes, they were, but wasn’t it shortlived? Saddam ruled with a heavy hand but he maintained law and order and basic living conditions were available to all. Post military success, the Shia-Sunni-Kurd stuff was too much for the US to handle (up to now at least)

    Now, Myanmar has its own latent problems – Karen rebels fighting for their own reasons. Unless we are sure we can address this, Myanmar will become another Iraq with sectarian violence.

    I would readily support a military oppression if there was one successful instance of it working, but sadly there isn’t.

  14. I would readily support a military oppression if there was one successful instance of it working, but sadly there isn’t.

    I meant “military operation” and not “military oppression”.

  15. Kevin — No apologies needed. The questions of how to intervene are critical. My particular interest is in the role of other Asian countries, but ultimately they are global questions.


    Creating atmosphere of goodwill
    Bangkok Post, 25 May 2008

    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is acting as an intermediary between member-state Burma and the international community in getting pledges of financial assistance into Burma after Cyclone Nargis.

    On Thursday Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan issued a plea during a briefing to Bangkok-based media for the reclusive regime, as well as the international community, to make today’s pledging conference in Rangoon a success. ACHARA ASHAYAGACHAT has compiled Mr Surin’s comments.

    Mr Surin: At the UN-Asean Pledging Conference in Rangoon, which will be chaired by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, all Asean foreign ministers, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Burmese Minister of Social Welfare Maung Maung Swe will spell out the situation. This will be followed by John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will provide an integrated report of UN systems and the Asean Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (ERAT) to the donors.

    I will explain how the mechanism of the nine-member Core Group (3 from Burma, 3 from Asean and 3 from the UN) will function in this pursuit, given the condition that a certain level of confidence among donors must be established.

    Q: How do you think the meeting will reflect the outpouring of goodwill and support for the Burmese people?

    Mr Surin: That’s the task we’ve been working on before Sunday’s meeting. My job here is to create (the atmosphere) for that international outpouring of goodwill, but that will depend very much on verifying the realities on the ground.

    We are calling for some form of agreement on which the 22-member nation super structure – the Coalition of Mercy (2 from each Asean members + the Asean secretariat) – can garner international assistance, based on figures that are scrutinised and validated by competent neutral agencies. That’s why the issue of accessibility is critical.

    Without accessibility, without the participation of international experts, (the Burmese) figures are just figures and the international community will not be confident.

    Q: How can this condition of confidence be met?

    Mr Surin: Pledging is going to be conditioned upon a detailed action plan, including mechanisms for monitoring and transparency. That’s why a central credible coordinating body such as the Coalition of Mercy has to be set up.

    The Burmese premier said he is the head of the mechanism. That is fine, but we want a tripartite core group in order to get out of any log-jams and bureaucratic red tape that might stand in the way of the implementation phase.

    Q: What are you expecting from Sunday’s meeting. Can US$11 billion be raised?(Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his Asean colleagues at the meeting in Singapore on Monday that his country needs US$11 billion and 100,000 housing units).

    Mr Surin: (Perhaps) if the (Burmese) figures are verified.

    Again, donors want some assurances of transparency.

    The Burmese government is asking for funds for resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

    Q: Why do you think it is better for Asean, rather than the UN or other organisations, to organise this conference? What has Asean delivered in the post-cyclone phase?

    Mr Surin: We offer a level of familiarity and a higher degree of higher confidence. Asean has a good record of working together, and a sustained effort to avoid sensitivities which in the past has served us well.

    Now we are transforming ourselves in this time of emergency with the Coalition. We are not working only within Asean but on behalf of the world, and the world is rallying behind us. We have to accommodate certain expectations.

    Q: Can this work in the longer term for Burma’s political reconciliation?

    Mr Surin: My mandate is to make sure the vehicle that I’ve been tasked with is accomplished – heading relief and rescue operations through the transmission of goodwill assistance. I should limit myself just to my mandate.

    Q: What will happen if the standard for transparency you mentioned is not met before Sunday?

    Mr Surin: We will have to consider. We will go step by step.

    Whether the Sunday pledging conference will be successful or not depends on the ability to reconcile the differences (between the junta and the international community).

  16. “Myanmar extends Suu Kyi’s house arrest, detains activists” 27 May 2008

    It seems that the decision to allow foreign aid workers into Burma (and by extension the suffering of the Burmese cyclone victims) is being used by the junta as a smokescreen to crack down on political opponents.

    They let in aid workers, we reluctantly let them crack down on Suu Kyi even more.

    What do the Burmese people think is the solution to their problems?

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