Tag Archives: Voice of America

Cyclone relief no laughing matter

On the night of June 4, a group of police officers came to a house in suburban Rangoon, searched it and took away one of the occupants. But the person they took is not a wanted robber, murderer or escapee. He is a comedian.

Although Zarganar (pictured above at left, with fellow actor and social activist Kyaw Thu) is famous in Burma for his antics on stage and screen, he has not been joking much lately. Instead, he has been at the front of local efforts to get relief to where it has been needed most since Cyclone Nargis swept through his country a month ago.

Zarganar, whose adopted name means “pincers”, has thrown everything into the relief effort, organising hundreds of volunteers in dozens of villages to help in giving out food, water, clothes and other basic necessities to thousands of people.

His sister told Voice of America that he had sold his and his wife’s mobile phones to use the money for the work, and that as the monsoon is setting in they had just purchased seeds to distribute in order that villagers who have nothing to plant might at least grow vegetables and stave off hunger.

He has also been a vocal critic of the government response to the cyclone, constantly pointing to the shortfalls in assistance and needs of survivors.

“The odor [of death] sticks with us when we come back from the villages,” Zarganar told The Irrawaddy news service on June 2, a full month after the cyclone struck. Continue reading

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Sailors detained for abandoning ship mid-cyclone

(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. Continue reading

Preventable deaths, global consequences

(ความตายที่ป้องกันได้ ส่งผลกระเทือนทั่วโลก)

As predicted, survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which ravaged lower Burma on May 2 and 3, are no longer surviving.

Not only in the worst-hit delta areas but also in places close to Rangoon people are suffering from illnesses brought on by dirty water, lack of food and exposure to the elements. On Wednesday, a resident speaking to the Voice of America Burmese Service described the situation:

“In Thanlyin, 43-year-old Ko Aung Kyaw Moe died from cholera, as did a small girl in another village on the ninth. She was in the morgue. Also in Twente, I heard it of two girls. Then in Hpayagyigone village of Thanlyin an entire family of five died. And there’s around seven or eight sick people in the hospital.”

This account may or may not be fully accurate, but it is anyhow backed by many other similar reports from the disaster zones. Together they affirm that people are today dying of what can only be described as the most preventable of deaths — deaths due not to a lack of knowhow, resources or concern, but to an excess of obduracy in a military regime with a record of unremitting and shameless disregard for basic human rights and absolute minimum universal standards. Continue reading

Disease spreading in Laputta & Bogalay

(Update on Burmese language news reports after Cyclone Nargis)

Fears that delays in delivering aid to cyclone survivors could result in widespread illness and a second wave of deaths are now being realised.

According to the Yoma 3 News Service (Thailand), diarrhoea is spreading among the cyclone victims in Bogalay due to a lack of adequate assistance to a region still covered with decomposing corpses over a week after the cyclone. That report says that there are around 4000 refugees still in Bogalay town and around 100 survivors are continuing to arrive from surrounding villages each day. A report from RFA, however, says that there are three sites in Bogalay each housing 8-10,000 people.

In Laputta, children have reportedly started dying from cholera due to the lack of clean drinking water. Ma Win, a resident of ward 10 in the town told Yoma 3 by phone that

“We’ve received no aid at all. At this moment there are food problems and especially water problems. When it rains we are getting rain water. Now as all the drinking water sources are destroyed, children have been getting diarrhoea and from that cholera has broken out and more than a few children have died.”

As thousands of refugees have come into Laputta town from surrounding villages, the monasteries and hospitals are stretched and some have also been put into houses.

Despite the claims of government media that officials are responding promptly, people in Laputta are getting no help, Ma Win insisted: Continue reading

“Only for questioning” and the disavowal of law

the-trial-500.jpg

At a meeting in Singapore last week, Burma’s deputy defense minister iterated that persons taken into custody over the protests in his country of recent months had not been arrested but held “only for questioning.”

Perhaps because it was intended to deflect censure, this audacious remark didn’t get much notice. That’s unfortunate, because it implies a great deal both about how the junta thinks and how it operates.

Where does “only for questioning” fall under the law? If people are arrested, then criminal procedure applies. Police must lay charges and bring the accused before courts. But if someone has not been arrested, nor held according to established practice, then what is there?

If the military regime had even pretended to play by its own rules, then lawyers and relatives could have sought access to detainees according to those. If it had declared an emergency or otherwise sought to bypass ordinary law through formal announcement, then this could have been critiqued and campaigned against.

But dragging people from streets and houses with the help of assorted thugs and unidentified officers denies all recourse. “Only for questioning” is a blank wall, a legal void, a disavowal of everything.

Among those taken “only for questioning” was comedian Par Par Lay. Unlike some, he was released at the end of October, although being famous didn’t spare him from torture, as he told the Burmese service of the Voice of America: Continue reading