(Latest roundup of some Burmese language news reports on Cyclone Nargis; photo: a Light Infantry Division 77 “refugee relief camp” in Kunchangone; source: The Irrawaddy)
There are all sorts of news reports coming from Burma speaking to the twisted priorities that characterise dictatorship. Apart from holding a referendum and chasing after the usual internal and external destructive elements, authorities in the delta have according to Yoma 3 detained sailors who left their docked ships at the height of the cyclone. The news service reports that the naval officers and seamen jumped ship at the Thilawar Pier during the storm, as they like others had not been adequately warned of its approach. An unnamed naval officer told Yoma 3 that,
“Twenty-three men from those on vessel duty at Thilawar, including officers, have been detained at the Irrawaddy Naval Headquarters. It’s understood that they’re to be charged with abandoning ship. I know that some of them have been kept under house arrest. In the fierce storm some went ashore and took to high ground. Some also disappeared. It’s not known if they disappeared in the water or if they deserted and didn’t send word.”
Yoma 3 says that eight naval craft sunk during the storm although there has been no official comment on this, which has reportedly caused disgruntlement in the navy. The lost vessels were stationed at the Irrawaddy, Pyapon and Bogalay bases, among others. It also says that around 3000 naval families are believed to have had their homes damaged or destroyed in the cyclone and so far there has been no systematic effort to start rebuilding them.
Meanwhile, while Burma’s state newspapers are insisting that “some foreign news agencies [have] broadcast false information… that the Government has been rejecting and preventing aids for storm victims”, it’s not difficult to find specific complaints that it has been doing just that. Not only overseas donors but also those from within the country are encountering more obstacles.
RFA reports that two influential abbots from Karen State who travelled to the delta to deliver relief to victims are among those who have been harassed and obstructed. It says that the two, the Taunggalay Sayadaw, U Pinnyathardhi and the Zwegapin Sayadaw, U Kawi, went to Bassein with their junior monks and disciples in over 20 vehicles to give aid to cyclone refugees relocated there. According to one person who was in the convoy
“When we arrived there they asked for a register. Having given it, the special investigation task forces said that they wanted to photograph our vehicles. The Taunggalay Sayadaw said, do you need to tell me? Monks do monks’ work, people do people’s work. The abbot was angry. Then when we also went there to donate directly to the refugees, they went themselves and also wanted to watch and to donate [the monasteries’ goods]. Thereafter as the assigned individuals in the area also said that we couldn’t do the things that we wanted to, the abbots went back.”
The two abbots later reportedly made donations at Twente, in Rangoon Division.
There are also more checkpoints and questioning on the road to Kunchangone, where the number of dead in that township alone is estimated to have risen to 22,000, or over two thirds of the population, according to one donor who spoke to Yoma 3 after returning from there. DVB also has a report in English on conditions in the township.
Comedian Zarganar, who hasn’t been joking much since he began leading some private efforts to take relief to affected persons, talked to VOA about the difficult conditions in one part of Myaungmya where people have been relocated from the islands:
“In Myaungmya there are around 30 camps. These 30 camps—to give an example, one big camp holds a village [population]. It takes about an hour and a half to go there, through [river] water, then across coastline, then water. There are around 1600 to 1800 refugees there. They haven’t had anything done. There hasn’t been any help howsoever. Those people also can’t come here. No one has thought how these people can have food and drink.”
In Bogalay, VOA gives a victim’s account of neglect in the cyclone’s aftermath, from someone who lost her mother:
“Our mother didn’t drown to death. She died the next day from the cold. We also reckoned that we’d die ourselves, not getting any help. The next day people said that there was distributing of rice grain, and we wanted to eat rice too. When we went to get the grain they said it was just for those in the field. They said they wouldn’t give it. We hadn’t eaten for two days. They said that the houses on the roadside were not to do with those in the field so we couldn’t eat. Around two days passed and they gave once. After that they also didn’t give [anything].”
The report continues that hundreds of people are crowding into monasteries between Bogalay and Pyapon and if conditions are not quickly addressed then there are likely to be contagious diseases breaking out, although even that biological possibility too has apparently been ruled out by the junta.