07/04/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Burma's tragedy, a people scared by nature and a cruel regime

With traumatised children and teachers, refugees sent packing from shelters without any help and journalists under arrest, the country is inching its way to collapse two months since cyclone Nargis struck. A ferry sinks in the Irrawaddy Delta, killing 38 people.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – School children and teachers are under shock, journalists have been arrested for reporting on cyclone Nargis victims, refugees are forced to leave temporary shelters as boats sink taking down their human cargo. Myanmar is a country on the verge of collapse because of natural disasters and the close mindedness of the ruling military junta, willing to sacrifice the lives of its own people to protect itself.

Yesterday 38 people died when a ferry sank in the Ywan River in Burma's cyclone-battered Irrawaddy Delta; 44 others were rescued. The ferry was traveling from Pakeikkyi village to Myaungmya town but there are no details of how the accident happened.

Two months since cyclone Nargis left more than 138,000 dead or missing, at least 7,000 cyclone survivors are still sheltering in dramatic conditions in three temporary camps in Laputta town, in the Irrawaddy delta.

Here the authorities are renewing their pressure to get the refugees to return home, going so far as to threaten them to stop providing aid in July if they refuse.

Those who agree to go home will be get enough rice, oil and beans to last 10 days and will participate in a draw for the houses now being built in the devastated villages.

The solution is however just short term since it is unclear how they will be able to survive once they run out of supplies, the more so since international NGOs are not allowed to move freely in the area.

Children are still the hardest hit. They are still scarred by the shock caused by the cyclone which wiped out entire families and villages. The luckiest ones are back in school, but teachers are finding that they have a hard time concentrating. 

“They don't seem to hear or respond to my questions very often in class,” and “I don't know how to help them,” one teacher said.

Although going back into the classroom is a positive sign because they are kept away from further harm that may follow a natural disaster, such as the risk of trafficking or child labour, rehabilitation remains a slow and difficult process and children need a good deal of psychological support.

“Physically, they [students] are sitting in the class, but spiritually they are not here. Their minds are far away,” said another teacher.

But it is not just the children who are suffering. Teachers, particularly in the cyclone-affected areas of Laputta and Bogalay, mostly female, were also badly traumatized by the storm. About 113 of their colleagues were also killed.

Burma’s tragedy is hardly covered by the media. The government has increased restrictions on journalists who are unable to truly report on the conditions of the people and the country

The sense of despair and impotence is growing among Burmese media, limited to talking about government initiatives, forced to ignore or censor complaints and the suffering of the population.

For anyone who dare oppose the regime there is a one-way ticket to prison. At least four Burmese journalists have ended up this way. They are Aung Kyaw San, editor-in-chief of the Myanmar Tribune; Ma Eine Khine Oo, a journalist with Ecovision Journal; popular commentator, comedian and blogger, Zarganar; and Zaw Thet Htwe, a freelance journalist.

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