06/16/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Military junta orders foreign medics to leave cyclone-hit areas

Myanmar’s government is closing down relief camps in the Irrawaddy Delta area, claiming it no longer needs foreign doctors. A Thai medical team is not let in before it arrives. Authorities pile obstacles on top of obstacles as private donors start to give up.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Foreign doctors are leaving Myanmar after the ruling junta decided to shut down relief camps for cyclone Nargis victims. At the same time the 2.4 million people displaced by the natural disaster can no longer count on the support of private donors, who have become discouraged by the obstacles put up by local authorities to prevent them from distributing aid and accessing affected areas.

Myanmar’s military regime told Thailand not to send a third group of medics, meant to arrive in Yangon today, since most camps in the Irrawaddy Delta town of Myaung Mya have been closed.

“Doctors from India, Japan and the Philippines have already left Myanmar [Burma,” Surachet Satitniramai, a coordinator for the Thai team, told Reuters. “They [Burmese authorities] said they had enough doctors to deal with the situation now.”

In reality and despite its pledges, the junta is still reluctant to allow foreign humanitarian aid. Thus, most cyclone victims have to languish in a situation made more difficult by the decision of many private donors to quit.

The Irrawaddy daily reported that many private donors have decided in fact to stop their operations because of the difficulties they continue to encounter.  First of all, many donors are facing the prospect of prison, which is what happened to Burma's most popular comedian, Zarganar, who was arrested on 4 June, and to former sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe, taken into custody on Saturday in the city of Minbu.

Secondly, many donors are forced to pay fees to use roads and bridges to move relief material. In some cases, donors have been forced to exchange their goods for products of inferior quality. And some private donors have complained that their goods have been seized.

Another explanation for the drop in private donations is economic. Middle class donors have probably done as much as they can afford to do, this according to one analyst. As food prices rise they have nothing left to share with the victims.

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