Lies online, again

After being stuck in time since Cyclone Nargis hit, the New Light of Myanmar and cohorts are now going back online. Catch all the “news” that’s fit to print.

What about Weekly Eleven?


3 responses to “Lies online, again

  1. While on the topic of rubbish (in) newspapers, on the same day that the New Light found its website again there was an outstanding piece in the Bangkok Post that should perhaps have been named “News non-think”, or “My assemblage of pathetic clichés and diplomatic doublespeak passed off as journalism”. The best bits, including one about the undefined “success” of Thailand’s “junta-appeasing policy”, are in bold:

    NEWS THINK: Doing too much, too soon may backfire
    Bangkok Post, 14 May 2008

    The saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” could apply to Thailand’s relations with Burma if the kingdom mishandles international pressure on the Burmese junta to open the country to international assistance for survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

    So far Thailand has done its best by expressing its concern and offering its condolences as well as delivering a token but much-needed aid to Burma.

    This success is due to the Samak government’s junta-appeasing policy and the junta’s recognition of an admirable reception during a visit to Thailand by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, which ended just two days before the natural disaster swept the former capital Rangoon and the Irrawaddy Delta.

    Another reason is Burma’s recognition of His Majesty the King’s goodwill message to the Burmese people, which was delivered by air force chief ACM Chalit Pookphasuk.

    The Burmese military regime warmly welcomed aid relief delivered by US Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the US Pacific Command, through the coordination of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s special envoy Lt-Gen Nipat Thonglek and the Thai embassy there. More disaster relief flights are planned from U-tapao air base to Rangoon.

    Yet, Rangoon is adamant that it will not allow American citizens to interfere and trespass on its sovereignty. The Burmese generals have shrugged off pressure from the global community.

    By doing too much, too soon could even create a bad impression, and affect the warm relations between Thailand and its neighbour.

    Thailand should not be pressured by the international community, or even United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to lobby the Burmese military government to open up its doors to foreign assistance.

    Thailand can do it in a more subtle manner. The last thing Burma needs is perhaps megaphone diplomacy, or the message that Thailand is so influential that the kingdom can push for anything the world likes.

    The UN should work things out through a line of communication between the junta and its special envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, who has made many trips to the country to help bring about national reconciliation and democratisation in Burma.

    Thailand, meanwhile, has its own interests to protect. If the kingdom pushes Burma too hard, it may not only be fruitless, but may lead to the kingdom being considered by Burma as a proxy of the Western world.

    Thailand can urge the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to do more. But expectations that pressure from Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan on the repressive regime should also be used to force Burma to allow outsiders to disseminate aid is an unrealistic demand.

    After all, Asean has never shown the clout to pressure the junta since Burma joined the regional body in 1997.

    If Mr Samak’s visit to Rangoon today is to deliver things requested by the junta, which included 100 satellite phones, 480,000 litres of diesel and Thai Red Cross survival kits, the generals might be willing to talk.

    But if the trip is just aimed at showing off the government’s prowess in its megaphone shuttle diplomacy, it would certainly spoil the broth.


    A generous and well-written letter in reply from a concerned reader was not (yet) published [UPDATE: published on May 16]:

    In trying to explain the Thai diplomatic response to the Burmese government following cyclone Nargis (Handle with Care, May 14), Achara Ashayagachat makes several shrewd points about Thailand’s national interests, the pressures brought by the UN and world community, and the nature of ASEAN-style diplomacy. What the author fails to mention is the immense humanitarian crisis looming over hundreds of thousands of poor, hungry, and vulnerable Burmese people struggling to survive after the storm. This is a serious situation requiring urgent, decisive, courageous action, motivated by respect for human life and compassion for human suffering. Mimicking the Thai government’s tepid response, the author either does not comprehend humanitarian priorities, or simply chooses to ignore them, perhaps out of fear, detachment, or self-interest. Achara’s claim that the Thai authorities have “done their best” by expressing condolences and offering token aid is, frankly, an embarrassment to the Bangkok Post.

    Another Disappointed Reader

  2. No infectious diseases except normal diseases common to the storm-hit areas are found

    New Light of Myanmar, 19 May 2008

    NAY PYI TAW, 18 May-The National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee yesterday issued News Release No 4. The News Release No 4 is as follows:-

    News Release No 4

    1. In the Union of Myanmar, a severe cyclone “Nargis” occured on 2nd and 3rd May 2008 causing tremendous casualties and devastation in the coastal areas of Ayeyawady Division. The storm also swept Yangon Division causing loss and damages.

    2. The National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee held its meeting at 8.30 am on 3rd May 2008 in Nay Pyi Taw and the civil and military medical teams were sent immediately to the storm-hit regions to provide health care services to the victims.

    3. Hence, altogether 2,029 members of 122 medical teams joining hands with local health staff are earnestly providing disease prevention and treatment works in Yangon and Ayeyawady Divisions.

    4. However, some foreign news agencies broadcast false information to the effect that the storm victims did not get health care services in full and there were dangers of cholera and other infectious diseases to break out.

    5. The Government of the Union of Myanmar with its own strength as well as with the international assistance has been taking disease preventive measures and providing treatment fully to the storm victims. No infectious diseases except normal diseases common to the storm-hit areas are found.

    National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee
    Dated: 17-5-2008
    Place : Nay Pyi Taw

    (See further: Disease spreading in Laputta and Bogalay)

  3. Let them eat frogs
    Bangkok Post, 31 May 2008

    Rangoon – The military junta began evicting destitute families from cyclone relief centres on Friday and rejected foreign food aid – because people can survive perfectly well by hunting “large, edible frogs.”

    The New Light of Myanmar “newspaper”, a government mouthpiece, also warned that foreign relief workers would snoop inside homes, and condemned donors for linking aid money to full access to the hardest-hit regions in the Irrawaddy Delta.

    The tirade came as the junta tightened its political grip on the country, extending democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest and announcing that its new constitution has been enacted.

    The regime says the charter will pave the way for democratic elections in two years, but dissidents say it will enshrine military rule in a country ruled by generals since 1962.

    “It is better that they move to their homes where they are more stable,” a government official said at one camp where people had been told to clear out at short notice. “Here, they are relying on donations and it is not stable.”

    Locals and aid workers said 39 camps in the immediate vicinity of Kyauktan, 30km south of Rangoon, were being cleared as part of a general eviction plan.

    “We knew we had to go at some point but we had hoped for more support,” 21-year-old trishaw driver Kyaw Moe Thu said as he trudged out of the camp with his five brothers and sisters.

    They had been given 20 bamboo poles and some tarpaulins to help rebuild their lives in the Irrawaddy delta, where 134,000 people were left dead or missing by Cyclone Nargis on May 2.

    “Right now, we are disappointed,” Kyaw Moe Thu said. “We were promised 30 poles by the government. They told us we will get rice each month, but right now we have nothing.”

    Why would they want rice? wondered the military regime.

    After several days of praising the work of the United Nations and charities, the regime’s official newspaper renewed its attacks on foreign aid and insisted Burmese could survive without outside help.

    “The government and the people are like parents and children,” the paper said. “We, all the people, were pleased with the efforts of the government.”

    “Myanmar (Burmese) people are capable enough of rising from such natural disasters even if they are not provided with international assistance,” the newspaper said.

    “Myanmar people can easily get fish for dishes by just fishing in the fields and ditches,” the paper said. “In the early monsoon, large edible frogs are abundant.”

    “The people (of the Irrawaddy delta) can survive with self-reliant efforts even if they are not given chocolate bars from (the) international community,” it added.

    No aid agencies are known to have provided chocolate bars to victims of Cyclone Nargis.

    The United Nations estimates that about one million people in the delta are still without emergency aid. (Agencies)


    Looking for a Happy Ending? Read the New Light

    By AUNG ZAW Thursday, May 29, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Almost four weeks after Nargis slammed into Burma’s Irrawaddy delta, aid workers are slowly gaining access to affected areas. Meanwhile, however, efforts to restrict private donors and reporters continue.

    Donors’ requests for free access to the affected area remain a thorny issue. The doors have opened slightly, but no one knows when they will be shut again.

    After meeting with top leaders of the ruling regime, including Snr-Gen Than Shwe, UN chief Ban Ki-moon received a green light to send aid workers into the delta region regardless of nationality.

    But a week after this major “breakthrough” in talks with the junta, observers who have been to the delta say some obstacles remain, while more than half the cyclone’s estimated 2.4 million victims are still beyond the reach of aid.

    If this news is too depressing for you, I suggest you switch to The New Light of Myanmar for coverage of Burma’s biggest natural disaster in living memory.

    According to the Burmese-language version of the state-run newspaper, the situation in the delta is rapidly returning to normal.

    On Thursday, the paper also defended the junta’s reluctance to allow “free access” to the affected area, as requested by donors during a pledging conference in Rangoon last Sunday.

    “The word ‘free access’ is simple, but it has far-reaching significance,” a commentator wrote.

    “It means they [donors] will only be satisfied if we open all our gates, the main door, the bedroom door and the kitchen door. We have to think about it,” the commentary continued.

    The regime’s mouthpiece also complained that the donors who attended last Sunday’s meeting were less than generous.

    “Burma needs US $11 billion, but they have committed only $150 million. That amount doesn’t even meet the requirements of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s emergency fund of $201 million to cover three months,” said the commentator.

    The newspaper accused the donors of lacking saytana, or generosity, and criticized the World Bank for refusing to offer a loan to the junta because of its failure to repay previous debts.

    It then went on to attack America, the regime’s most vocal critic.

    “Even though it foresaw that a powerful storm would hit Burma in the near future, a big nation increased its economic sanctions against Burma,” the paper said, using its code word for the United States and adding to the politicization of the disaster by connecting it to the issue of sanctions.

    Astonishingly, the paper went on to claim that victims of the cyclone didn’t really need that much help, thanks to the natural abundance of the delta region.

    It said that temporarily, people in the Irrawaddy delta might need energy biscuits and instant noodles. But there was no danger of a food shortage in the delta, as long as people were willing to go out and look for it.

    If farmers put nets in the rivers and creeks, they will have protein-rich fish to eat, the paper declared. Fresh vegetables, mushrooms, water clover and sensitive plants (Mimosa pudica) are also readily available and delicious with fish paste. Farmers will not only be able to satisfy their appetites, but also enjoy a healthy diet.

    As a further piece of advice, the paper suggested that farmers go out with lamps at night and catch plump frogs as they come out in the monsoon season.

    And if nature’s bounty doesn’t meet the people’s needs, there’s always the beneficence of the state, which is now providing assistance in the form of shelters, rice seed, livestock and tractors.

    Even in temporary shelters, life is returning to normal. On May 27, the paper published a photo of camp residents playing a game of chinlone, or cane ball, Burma’s national sport.

    So, if the New Light is to be believed, all is well in Burma. And if things look good now, just wait until next year.

    A year from now, the people of the Irrawaddy delta will be beaming as fields are flooded with golden rice, marking a return to complete self-sufficiency, the paper proclaimed.

    I wonder why international donors never thought to mention plump frogs, mushrooms, and fish paste in their assessment of the delta’s prospects for a full recovery. I guess they lack a sense of humor.


    Junta Article Attacks ‘Open Access’
    By WAI MOE Thursday, May 29, 2008, The Irrawaddy

    Several Rangoon newspapers sanctioned by the Burmese junta blasted the idea of “opening up” to foreign aid workers and criticized refugees who lined the roads leading to the cyclone-stricken area, saying they made the country look bad.

    The same commentary appeared in two newspapers, Myanma Alin and Kyemon, on Thursday. The article claimed that “free access” for foreign aid workers meant they could do whatever they liked in the country without limitations.

    Newspapers in Burma are tightly controlled by the military government and are used by the ruling generals to publicize their views and changes in official policy.

    The article also criticized the World Bank, which provided a $23 million loan to aid Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami, for its refusal to provide monetary aid to Burma.

    The World Bank refused to offer Burma a disaster loan, citing the military junta’s failure to repay previous bank loans since 1998.

    The article attacked the United States’ latest economic sanctions against the junta that were handed down in early May. The US is a powerful country and it knew the tropical storm would hit Burma, but it increased economic sanctions anyway, the article claimed.

    The article said that military-ruled Burma can survive without foreign humanitarian aid because it now gets only US $3 annually as development assistance—the lowest amount among developing countries.

    Fish paste curry and vegetables are delicious and offer enough nutrition for farmers in the Irrawaddy delta, the article said.

    Another article on Thursday in a state-run newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, criticized homeless, hungry refugees of Cyclone Nargis. Refugees lining the roads were in a scramble to get donations handed out by volunteers, and their behavior tarnished the image of the people and the country, the article said.

    The article accused the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), which is now working to provide relief aid in the Irrawaddy delta, of “trying to exploit the situation politically, instead of cooperating with the people.”

    The NLD said on Thursday the party was not using the disaster for political purposes. Win Myint, the NLD’s secretary for Irrawaddy Division, said, “The NLD relief effort is based on the party’s members in the Irrawaddy delta, who are also cyclone survivors. They were aiding refugees immediately after the storm.”

    The government’s disaster committee announced in a press release on Wednesday that aid donations should be given only to official government organizations so that aid may be “carried out more effectively”.

    “In that regard, assistance may be sought from the National Disaster Preparedness Committee at different levels,” the press release said.

    Responding to the press release, an aid volunteer with a private donation group, who requested anonymity, said such announcements are usually ignored, but they can make working more difficult.

    “Sometimes top officials say things like that,” she said. “But different things happen on the ground.”

    However, she said a group traveling to the Irrawaddy delta on Sunday in about 27 vehicles was stopped in Hlaingtharyar Township by local authorities, and the drivers were taken to a technical college compound in Insein Township where they were questioned.

    “They took driver licenses,” she said, “and the licenses have not been returned.”

    Currently, foreigners working with international nongovernmental organizations who want to enter the delta area have to get official documentation from Burma’s ministry of defense, ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of social welfare, making the aid process an extended exercise in bureaucracy while preventing effective aid from reaching the needy.

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