Ships carrying 300 refugees sink in storm

RFA Burmese service has reported that the do-it-yourself cyclone response imposed on the already long-suffering people of Burma has claimed more lives. Around 4pm on May 19 four boats carrying Cyclone Nargis refugees from Bogalay sank in heavy rain and rough seas, the station has reported. One sank near Bhyonehmway Island, another two near Kantayar Pier and the other near Kaingtawwa village, it said.

The boats were believed to be carrying around 300 people and sacks of rice grain. The vessel that went down near Bhyonehmway Island had two Red Cross workers on board along with many former residents of Kyeinlonegyi village who had come to Bogalay for shelter and had been paid off by officials to leave. So far there are no figures on numbers of dead but the casualties are expected to be high. According to a local who spoke to RFA

“All these passengers were villagers who had left Bogalay having arrived as refugees there. Each household got 20,000 cash (about US$17) and eight pyi (about 2 litres) of rice grain then the military forced them to go back to their villages. Yesterday they got caught in a storm leaving Bogalay and the ships sank killing the lot.”

The interviewee told RFA that the authorities in Bogalay on May 19 began clearing out the monasteries and schools of people still taking refuge after the cyclone. Some people think that they are doing this to get people back to their areas to complete voting in the referendum, while others think that it may be that they want to clear up the town to be able to show it to the UN Secretary General when he visits the country shortly. According to residents speaking to RFA, the situation in the town is getting worse by the day and there has still been no systematic and effective distribution of aid to the thousands of persons who have come there for help. There are, as in other places, outbreaks of disease and private donors trying to assist are suffering interference from government officials.

There are no other reports to confirm the news broadcast on RFA, but the May 19 weather report in The Mirror (pictured above) states that the forecast was for heavy rain and high seas on parts of the coastline with 40-45mph winds. On May 20 it reported that there was strong monsoon weather across the Bay of Bengal.


5 responses to “Ships carrying 300 refugees sink in storm

  1. G E N O C I D E

  2. Pingback: Burmese Weekly : Vol 26 , WE Sun 25th May '08 - - The Thailand Forum

  3. Cyclone Survivors Don’t Want UN Chief to Visit Delta
    By THE IRRAWADDY, Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Many cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy delta say they don’t want UN chief Ban Ki-moon to visit their camps and temporary shelters for fear the military regime will tighten security and intimidate people who have lost family members and homes.

    Burma’s best-known comedian Zarganar and other Burmese private donors who visited the cyclone-ravaged delta recently said that many cyclone survivors are so desperate for food and relief supplies they do not want the UN secretary-general and his delegation to jeopardize the situation.

    Already suffering from fatigue and depression, many of the cyclone survivors who are now homeless have endured the additional stress of being part of the regime leaders’ “inspections,” said Zarganar.

    In Kungyangone, police and local authorities drove through the streets using loudspeakers to tell people not to go out begging for food along the road one day before Snr-Gen Than Shwe visited the town on May 19. They warned cyclone victims that they would be arrested and punished if they took to begging in the street.

    Local officials in Kungyangone prepared in advance food packages and relief supplies in front of tents to show Burma’s paramount leaders that their relief operation was going well.

    Private Burmese aid donors who traveled to the delta said that, in spite of the devastation caused by the cyclone, the regime wanted to portray a positive image. The philanthropists said that the regime is concerned that the reality on the ground is in sharp contrast with the propaganda broadcast on the news in the state-run media.

    The military authorities are eager to show that situation is under control, the Burmese donors said.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to meet with Snr-Gen Than Shwe in Rangoon this week after being snubbed for more than a week by the reclusive junta leader. He will also visit the Irrawaddy delta, the region most devastated by tropical cyclone Nargis on May 2-3.

    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.

    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.

    Ban is scheduled to stay in Burma for several days and plans to attend a donor conference on Sunday in Rangoon.

    Aung Naing Oo, a Burma analyst based in Thailand, said that the regime is security conscious and more people will suffer because of the UN’s high-level visit to the area.

    “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.”

    Zarganar also expressed concern that Ban won’t see the true severity of the situation on the ground.

    “The regime,” he said, “would project a positive image. But people on the ground won’t be allowed to say anything and will be punished if they do.”

    Meanwhile, hundreds of villagers who took refuge in monasteries and schools in Bogalay after the cyclone have been forced to return to their villages by security forces.

    Sources in Bogalay also confirmed that a boat carrying cyclone survivors sank near Bogalay on Monday evening. No further details were immediately available.

  4. Refugees moved out to make way for polling station

    May 22, 2008 (DVB)–Cyclone victims sheltering in a community hall in South Dagon township, Rangoon, were forced to move by local authorities so that the hall could be used as a polling station.

    The hall in South Dagon’s ward 26 is to be used for voting in the postponed constitutional referendum on 24 May.

    One of the cyclone victims said there were around 90 people taking refuge in the hall.

    “There are many families and we have nowhere to shelter and can’t move out,” she said.

    “But they told us we had to go, and said they couldn’t make any arrangements for us.”

    The group asked to stay in a small adjoining kitchen, but the authorities refused permission.

    The refugee said the people in the hall had to find food for themselves as they were no longer receiving any assistance.

    “We have to find food on our own initiative as no one comes to give it to us,” the refugee said.

    “As soon as the dawn breaks, we leave our children behind and go out to find food where we can,” she said.

    “They gave us four cups of rice and a piece of fish in the beginning, now they don’t give us anything.”

    State television broadcasts showed 40 tents for refugees when military leaders came to inspect camps in South Dagon’s ward 17 and in Hlaing Tharyar township, but thousands are living on the roadsides, in monasteries and in communal halls.

    Reporting by Aye Nai


    Authorities give out food in exchange for ‘Yes’ votes

    May 21, 2008 (DVB)–Local authorities in Thingangyun township, Rangoon, have been giving rice and cooking oil to families who agree to vote ‘Yes’ in the constitutional referendum, a local resident said.

    A Thingangyun resident said people in one ward had been given the basic goods in return for the whole family voting ‘Yes’.

    “People who live in Kyipwaryay ward were asked by local authorities to votes ‘Yes’ in the coming referendum,” the resident said.

    “Each family who agreed to vote ‘Yes’ was given 4 pyi of rice and 50 kyattha of cooking oil,” he went on.

    “Not everyone in a family necessarily needed to cast their own votes – just one member of the family could vote on behalf of the others.”

    An employee of Kyimyintdaing township’s High School (2) told DVB that all school employees living in school quarters had been directed by the school’s headmistress to cast ‘Yes’ votes in the referendum.

    Those who had already voted ‘No’ in advance were ordered by the headteacher to vote again in support of the constitution.

    The Burmese military regime held its referendum on the draft constitution in most of the country on 10 May, but polling was delayed until 24 May in 47 townships in Rangoon and Irrawaddy divisions that were worst affected by the recent cyclone.

    The junta has already announced the results of the 10 May vote, claiming 92.4 percent of voters supported the constitution.

    Reporting by Naw Say Phaw


    Junta pays ‘fake refugees’ to pose as cyclone victims

    May 21, 2008 (DVB)
    –The Burmese authorities have been forcing cyclone victims to return to their villages and replacing them with paid “fake refugees”, according to a private donor who recently returned from Bogalay.

    The donor said the refugees had been ordered to return to the villages immediately.

    “The situation is the same in Laputta, Bogalay and other areas of Irrawaddy division, and in Kunchangone – people have pleaded in tears but to no avail,” she said.

    “[The authorities] want to show the international community that there are no refugees here.”

    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.”

    The donor said that if the refugees returned to their villages, they would not have access to any assistance.

    “The real refugees’ children and parents are dead,” the donor said.

    “They are being forced to return to the village when they are in a very fragile mental state, and when they are in their villages they don’t get the international aid and private donors like us,” she said.

    “I am still feeling very distressed and broken-hearted for them.”

    Another donor said the situation was similar in Kyauktan in Rangoon division.

    “They are keeping some 400 people who had been helped for show on the route,” he said.

    “They only reached that area [with assistance], not the other areas. Now they are being forcibly relocated.”

    Reporting by Htet Yazar

  5. BURMA: Did Cyclone Nargis Kill 300,000 People?
    By Marwaan Macan-Markar

    BANGKOK, May 24 (IPS) – Three weeks after Cyclone Nargis crashed through Burma’s populous Irrawaddy Delta, the country’s military regime has been more forthcoming about the number of buffaloes and chickens that perished than on human casualties.

    For now, the official human toll in Burma, or Myanmar, stands at 77,738 deaths and 55,917 missing. This figure was revealed in a small story that appeared at the bottom of page six in the May 17 edition of the ‘New Light of Myanmar,’ a mouthpiece of the regime.

    That figure was almost double of what the notoriously secretive junta had revealed nearly 10 days after the powerful cyclone struck in the early hours of May 3. Since the country’s worst natural disaster in living memory, the official figures of dead and missing people have been revised at least four times.

    Some international humanitarian agencies have estimated the death toll to be over 130,000. Yet, even that number may be much lower than what a few civilian organisations working closely with the junta estimate, according to information revealed to IPS.

    By the end of the first week, information gathered by the junta and discussed among a small group of senior military officers in the former capital Rangoon had put the death toll as high as 300,000, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

    ‘’They were shocked by the scale of the disaster and that is why they clamped down on information getting out and outsiders, like foreign aid workers, going into the delta,’’ he added.

    This revelation was made a few days before another assessment of the affected areas was made by 18 humanitarian agencies in Burma. The latter estimated that at least 220,000 people are reported to be missing, in addition to 101,682 possible deaths, a local aid worker close to the agencies told IPS.

    Burmese familiar with the terrain and demographic composition in the delta are not surprised by the possibility of deaths on such a monumental scale. ‘’Some people say that the death toll in only Bogale town and the surrounding villages could be as high as 100,000,’’ Win Min, a Burmese national security expert who grew up in the delta, told IPS. ‘’At least 36 villages close to Bogale town were flattened.’’

    Bogale was one among seven townships that faced the brunt of the cyclone, which had wind speeds of 190 km per hour, churned up a wall of sea water 3.5 m high and swept 40 km inland on the flat terrain of the Irrawaddy Delta. The other badly affected townships were Labutta, Mawlamyinegyun and Kyaiklat.

    The area that was affected is vast, says Steve Marshall, a senior member of International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) office in Rangoon. ‘’We are talking of an area of 82,000 sq km, almost the size of Austria.’’

    What is more, the delta has the highest population density not only in Burma but is also very high when compared with the rest of Asia. There are 183 people per sq km in the delta, while in the rest of the country it is 72 people per sq km. ‘’Over all in Asia the population density is 126 people per sq km, so the number in the delta is fairly high,’’ a U.N. population expert said in an interview.

    The junta, in fact, confirmed how populous the delta is during a briefing Thursday in Rangoon to discuss relief and reconstruction efforts. It was to some 200 people from a broad constituency of diplomats, international humanitarian groups and United Nations officials.

    There are 7.3 million people living in the cyclone-hit areas, of which four million people in the delta have been affected, the junta revealed, according to a diplomatic source present at the meeting. Another 1.5 million were affected in and around Rangoon, it added.

    This official figure of the cyclone affected — 5.5 million — is more than twice the number what the international humanitarian groups fear have been affected. All last week, humanitarian groups had said the number of the affected was estimated to be 2.5 million people.

    This latest figure of the affected people is a dramatic jump from the numbers the junta said were affected three days after the cyclone struck. The initial estimate was 975,858 people, according to information revealed to IPS.

    But while the junta chooses to be selective about the human cost of the cyclone, it has been more candid about the precise number of buffaloes and chickens that died in the delta, a terrain that supplies Burma vast quantities of food such as rice and meat.

    The junta told the foreigners assembled at the Thursday morning meeting that 136,804 buffaloes had died, of which three were ‘’government-owned buffaloes,’’ says Penny Lawrence, international director for the British humanitarian agency Oxfam, who attended that two-hour briefing.

    Lawrence and the rest of the humanitarian community were also informed during this meeting — which was chaired by Prime Minister Gen. Thein Shien — that 1,250,194 chickens had perished in the disaster.

    ‘’They (the junta) think they know what happened and the statistics they are sharing are very accurate,’’ Lawrence told journalists on Saturday morning. ‘’The presentation lasted an hour and it was followed by eight questions.’’

    The junta is hoping that the military precision with which it rolled out the numbers of dead buffaloes and chickens –among other official statistics from the disaster –will move the international community to pour money to help rebuild the shattered delta.

    Moreover, the junta wants the 10.7 billion US dollars in foreign aid money to be channelled through official coffers, a request that poses a challenge to international donors, given the long history of the regime impoverishing its people despite the country’s impressive earnings from its ample natural resources, like gas.

    Little wonder why Burmese living in exile, who are angered by the regime’s efforts to cover up the death toll and the hurdles placed in the way of assisting victims, say that the junta smells a windfall from so much death and devastation in the delta.

    ‘’This is the usual way of the military regime,’’ Sann Aung, a cabinet minister in Burma’s democratically-elected government forced into exile, told IPS. ‘’They never miss an opportunity to exploit the suffering of the people to profit for themselves.’’

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