Updated – Burma’s Military Junta Deports Aid Workers

(11:15AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar said Friday it was not ready to let in foreign aid workers, rejecting international pressure to allow experts into the isolated nation where disease and starvation are stalking cyclone survivors.

One week after the devastating storm killed tens of thousands, Myanmar’s ruling generals — deeply suspicious of the outside world — said the country needed outside aid for those still alive, but would deliver it themselves.

The foreign ministry announcement came as a top UN official warned time was running out to move in disaster experts and supplies to prevent diseases that could claim even more victims.

Instead, the ministry said some relief workers who arrived on an aid flight from Qatar on Wednesday had been deported.

link: http://afp.google.com/article/…

Al Jazeera has an exemplary in-depth analysis of this tragedy, including an extended round table featuring UN Humanitarian Chief John Holmes, Bo Hla Tint, spokesperson for the Burmese Government in Exile and Marie Lall of the Asia Programme at Chatham House:

As outrageous as this latest move by the junta is, it’s important to know why they are doing what they are doing to see if any pressure can be put on them to change their stance and let aid workers in to help the situation on the ground.

The Associated Press gives some background on the paranoia driving these recent decisions:

“The military regime is extraordinarily xenophobic. They are afraid of everything,” said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Australia’s Macquarie University.

Among the junta’s fears are internal uprisings, a U.S. invasion, globalization and its capacity to dilute traditional Burmese culture. In the aftermath of Saturday’s cyclone, the junta appears to be afraid of losing face with its people.

“If they can’t handle the situation and they let Westerners come in with helicopters, this will demonstrate to their own people the shortcomings of the military,” Turnell said. “They are more concerned with control and maintaining an omniscience in front of their people than saving lives.”

And this is coupled with a fear that Western governments will use this human tragedy as a reason to overthrow the junta:

“They’re afraid that if foreign soldiers come in they are the spearhead to overthrow the government,” said Josef Silverstein, a retired Rutgers University professor who studied Myanmar for more than a half century.

From the junta’s perspective: “Aid workers could be carrying weapons to give to the people, they could give them ideas of how to overthrow the government.”


The junta has long mistrusted the West because of more than a century of British colonial rule that ended in 1948. A parliamentary democracy survived until the ruthless dictator Gen. Ne Win seized power in a 1962 coup. During his 26-year rule, Ne Win’s regime curtailed human rights and political opposition and closed the country off to outsiders, earning Burma, as it was then known, the nickname the “Hermit Kingdom.”

The US’s invasion of Iraq has only served to heighten these fears:

The U.S. invasions of Iraq in 1991 and in 2003 reportedly spread panic among the junta and high hopes among the people.

Some analysts believe the junta’s abrupt decision in 2005 to relocate the country’s capital from Yangon to the remote city of Naypyitaw, which it carved out of dense jungle, was driven by fears of a U.S. invasion.

link: http://ap.google.com/article/A…

If a government goes through the time, effort and energy of moving a country’s capital that pretty much shows how afraid they are of being overthrown by a foreign military.

The tragedy here is that these fears are costing the lives of people on the ground, as the risk of disease becomes less and less preventable.

What can be done? There isn’t a possibility of Geraldo going in country, holding a small baby up to the camera and crying to the world to save these children. Any foreign presence makes these folks paranoid to the point where they would rather have millions of people die rather than accept UN aid workers into their country.

The options that remain are:

1. Let the current state of affairs stand. This means a certain death sentence for thousands of people, especially for small children and babies, as the local population dies slowly and painfully due to lack of food, safe drinking water and disease.

2. Air drop supplies over affected areas. These air drops are spotty at best and have no guarantee of reaching the folks in need. Also, there is the question of violating Burma’s airspace, which will only ratchet up the junta’s paranoia even further.

3. Take up France’s proposal to pass a UN resolution under its “responsibility to protect”. If this can even get passed at the UN – and given China’s support of the military junta that’s not a sure thing – this means the world community thumbing its nose at the junta and, in their eyes, moving full speed ahead with an invasion. Don’t expect the junta to take that one lying down, and if they vent their frustration on anyone chances are it will be the same folks all of these countries are moving in to try to save.

4. Unilateral action by the US and other countries. This would mean a consortium of nations – or even one big one like the US – thumbing their nose at the UN and just delivering aid directly to the citizens of Burma. This is frought with all of the problems outlined in the previous option, with the added bonus of alienating Burma’s closest neighbors and escalating a conflict more likely than not between China and any nations who take such unilateral action.

And while the world contemplates options that range from bad to worse, people die. Children starve. And soon disease will have a foothold, entrenching more suffering and death.

I don’t envy the folks having to make these decisions right now. At this point there are literally no good options, and the decisions will have to be based on choosing the action that will do the least amount of harm.

Please keep the people of Burma, and those individuals who hold their lives in their hands, in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.

UPDATE  The Chinese government’s official news agency, Xinhua, has broken trend with international headlines and decided to focus on the military junta’s constitutional referendum vote. NOTE: if this was one’s sole source of information, one would be under the misimpression that there is nothing amiss in Myanmar right now:

YANGON, May 9 (Xinhua) — A nationwide referendum on a draft constitution will be held in Myanmar on Saturday as scheduled, with people across the country set to go to poll, except those residing in the declared natural-disaster-hit regions.

   As 40 townships in Yangon division and 7 in the southwestern Ayeyawaddy division are under declared natural-disaster-hit regions status, ballot casting in these areas is postponed to a fortnight later on May 24.

   According to official estimation, there is a total population of 57 million in the whole of Myanmar with up-to-age population, or eligible voters, accounting for about 27 million.

   Of the country’s 57 million population, Yangon represents 7 million, while Ayeyawaddy 6 million.

   According to the constitutional referendum law, it allows free and secret casting of votes on the draft constitution and open counting of the votes to ensure the referendum be free and fair.

   The polling booths are set to close at 4 p.m. (local time), after which ballot counting will be done.

   According to the draft constitution, the constitution draft can be ratified with the majority votes-in-favor out of the votes cast by over 50 percent of eligible voters.

   The 194-page 15-chapter 2008 Republic of Union of Myanmar Constitution was drafted by the 54-member State Constitution Drafting Commission in accordance with the detailed basic principles laid down by the National Convention.

   The National Convention originally started in 1993 but first adjourned for eight years from April 1, 1996 to May 16, 2004, and formally resumed on May 17, 2004.

   The referendum on the new constitution draft constitutes part of the military government’s seven-step roadmap announced in 2003.The next step is to hold a multi-party democracy general election in 2010 to produce parliament representatives to hand over power to a democratically elected civil government.

   Meanwhile, relief and resettlement work is underway in cyclone-hit areas and international relief aid is also coming in.

link: http://news.xinhuanet.com/engl…



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  1. supplies in country through the Intl Burmese Monks Organization:

    Dear friends,

    In the wake of a massive cyclone, a shocking 100,000 Burmese may be dead. More are missing. A million are homeless.

    But what’s happening in Burma is not just a natural disaster–it’s also a catastrophe of bad leadership.

    Burma’s brutal and corrupt military junta failed to warn the people, failed to evacuate any areas, and suppressed freedom of communication so that Burmese people didn’t know the storm was coming when the rest of the world did. Now the government is failing to respond to the disaster and obstructing international aid organizations.

    Humanitarian relief is urgently needed, but Burma’s government could easily delay, divert or misuse any aid. Yesterday the International Burmese Monks Organization, including many leaders of the democracy protests last fall, launched a new effort to provide relief through Burma’s powerful grass roots network of monasteries–the most trusted institutions in the country and currently the only source of housing and support in many devastated communities. Click below to help the Burmese people with a donation and see a video appeal to Avaaz from a leader of the monks:


    Giving to the monks is a smart, fast way to get aid directly to Burma’s people. Governments and international aid organizations are important, but face challenges–they may not be allowed into Burma, or they may be forced to provide aid according to the junta’s rules. And most will have to spend large amounts of money just setting up operations in the country. The monks are already on the front lines of the aid effort–housing, feeding, and supporting the victims of the cyclone since the day it struck. The International Burmese Monks Organization will send money directly to each monastery through their own networks, bypassing regime controls.

    Last year, more than 800,000 of us around the world stood with the Burmese people as they rose up against the military dictatorship. The government lost no time then in dispatching its armies to ruthlessly crush the non-violent democracy movement–but now, as tens of thousands die, the junta’s response is slow and threatens to divert precious aid into the corrupt regime’s pockets.

    The monks are unlikely to receive aid from governments or large humanitarian organizations, but they have a stronger presence and trust among the Burmese people than both. If we all chip in a little bit, we can help them to make a big difference. Click here to donate:


    With hope,

    Ricken, Ben, Graziela, Paul, Iain, Veronique, Pascal, Galit and the whole Avaaz team

    PS: Here are some links to more information:

    For more information about Avaaz’s work to support the Burmese people, click here:


    For more information about the cyclone, the humanitarian crisis, and the political dimension, see these articles:






  2. really bad, and was delaying on visas…but deporting aid workers?  That’s really sick.

    Thank you for keeping us informed, even if it’s all bad news.

    • TMC on May 9, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    apparently, MSF (Doctors Without Borders) has been working in Myanmar for a number of years and has met with some success at getting aid and relief supplies into Myanmar.


    • kj on May 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    both Doctors Without Borders: http://www.doctorswithoutborde

    and Avaaz (Burma’s monks) https://secure.avaaz.org/en/bu

    accept credit card donations without forcing anyone to go through PayPal. Both organizations have people already there on the ground, so there’s a bit of hope that money donated will bypass the military and help provide basic supplies.

  3. … for their clarity.  You are taking an impossible and confusing situation and helping us to wrap our brains around what is happening.

    It’s true that the West has never treated Burma very well –the British plundered it for years, especially during and after WWII.  And of course China exploited Burma as well.

    I think China has an opportunity to influence what the junta does, and I hope it takes advantage of that opportunity.

    Thanks again, grannyhelen — not just for covering this story, but covering it with such clarity.

  4. Glad to see you are still out and about.  

  5. …even though the news continues to be bad and is, incredibly, getting worse, and beyond contributing to one or two aid groups and spending a lot of time cursing, there isn’t much in this situation that we can do to affect things.

    The latest:

    U.N. Suspends Myanmar Aid After Supplies Seized by Junta

    The United Nations suspended relief supplies to Myanmar on Friday after the military government seized the food and equipment it had already sent into the country.

    Earlier, in a statement, Myanmar’s military junta said it was willing to receive disaster relief from the outside world but would not welcome outside relief workers, a key demand of aid agencies who want to coordinate a and control their own aid.


  6. And there are bastards on the left who helped green light this project.

    • geomoo on May 10, 2008 at 2:15 am

    and that is a very painful and frustrating truth to face.  In this circumstance of widespread suffering, under one of the most incorrigibly repressive regimes in the world, we can no longer look to our government to make a positive difference.  We have made the paranoia of the junta seem almost justifiable.

    I’m not justifying the immoral and merciless actions of the junta.  Rather, I’m expressing feelings of hopelessness and outrage that our government is now in much less of a position to make a difference since we have lost our moral authority and have a track record of dishonorable behavior in a lot of other countries.

    It is heartening to be pointed toward some groups they may make a difference.  Thanks for the reporting, grannyhelen and others who informed and recommended possibly effective actions.

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