05/05/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Cyclone Nargis, pressure on the junta to accept international aid

That is the request of Burmese groups abroad, according to which the ruling general’s are unable to cope with the emergency. The death toll so far stands at 351. In Yangon relief has been left to ordinary citizens, while the military intervenes only in the wealthier areas.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Burmese abroad are asking the Naypytaw military government to allow humanitarian agencies free access to operate in the aftermath of the devastating cyclone Nargis. In the interim, residents in the former capital Yangon lament insufficient aid from the national military, who so far have limited their efforts to freeing the roads of wealthier suburbs from debris, abandoning the rest of the city to itself without electricity or drinking water.  According to Naing Aung, secretary general of the Forum for Democracy in Myanmar – based in Thailand – “the intervention of international experts is vital, because the regime is unable to cope with the emergency”.                                       

Myaddy TV, under the control of the military junta, reports that Nagris has left a death toll of 351.  The state television says that 20 thousand homes on the island of Haingyi, in the Andamane Sea, the first to have been hit by the cyclones passage when it made land fall on May 3, have been completely destroyed.  There alone the dead amount to 162.  Also according to official estimates, over 100 thousand people have been left homeless on the island.  It is feared, similar to events surrounding the 2004 Tsunami; the junta is hiding the real dimensions of the disaster and the actual death toll, denying international NGO’s access to help in relief efforts.  Moreover because in less than a week the controversial constitutional referendum will be held, to which external observers have also been prohibited.

The military government has declared a state of natural disaster in five zones.  In Yangon the streets are littered with broken trees and debris from collapsed buildings.  Residents of the former capital along with many Buddhist monks have joined forces in their attempts to clean the streets and re-establish order.  According to witnesses quoted by The Irrawaddy newspaper, the army is occupying itself in relief efforts only in those residential areas of the city where the ruling class live.  This morning across the city ordinary people wait in long queues to buy candles and basic food stuffs, the prices of which have rocketed given the situation.

The United Nations reports that they are still waiting permission from the junta to begin relief operations.  The director of the regional UN office for humanitarian affaire, Terje Skavdal, explains that the emergency intervention plan foresees the distribution of tents and chlorine tablets to purify water as well as cooking equipment.  He also adds that the Burmese deputy minister for Welfare has said that international aid may be very welcome.

 

 

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