08/20/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Burmese junta prevents Christians and Buddhists from providing help, increasing censorship

The military feels increasingly threatened by the growing solidarity and collaboration between believers of various religions. The generals are increasing controls, exploiting refugee labour and trafficking in international aid. Nobel Prize Laureate Nobel Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrested is extended.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – “Burmese Christians and Buddhist monks work, pray, engage in joint efforts and promote joint initiatives on behalf of the population,” especially for those who lost everything as a result of cyclone Nargis. This element of union and collaboration represents a “threat to the ruling military junta” which is trying “to prevent believers of various religions from coming together”; it is doing so by increasing controls across the country, including churches, temples, streets and even means of transportation, this according to a source that has remained anonymous for security reasons.

“The government has used refugees, sheltered in centres set up by the Church, to rebuild roads and structures damaged by the cyclone,” he told AsiaNews.

Even today, four months after the event, around Yangon there are “families that survive as best they can without any certain access to food or water”.

Help by Christians and Buddhists is “fundamental” in their life, but the government is “afraid of this joint commitment” because it could foster other “popular revolts that might overthrow the ruling dictatorship.”

Burmese are going through “an increasingly bad economic crisis” because of rising prices, especially “basic items like food.” For many of them the only meal of the day is “a bowl of rice”, the nation’s basic food staple, in many cases coming from aid provided by the international community.

According to the source the military junta is seizing supplies “without distributing directly to the population.” People “must earn their daily meal by working for the dictatorship. A bowl of rice is the puny reward they get in exchange for it.”

Cyclone Nargir disrupted the national economy, especially that of the Irrawaddy Delta region, where most farmers had to abandon water-covered fields and destroyed farm equipment, turning to fishing  which at least can provide a daily meal, at least on the short run. The country runs the risk however of finding itself without grain reserves.

According to government data, confirmed by the United Nations and ASEAN, the cyclone wiped out more 16,200 hectares of harvest. Damages to machinery and equipment are around US$ 4 billion.

Despite the extremely urgent situation, the government “prefers to arrest volunteers and send out spies and policemen to every corner of the country. We have many cases in which aid was not handed out or was sent back to the sender only because it came from the international community,” said the source.

“Many monks have been prevented from helping out in reconstruction. Instead the government continues to argue obstinately that problems are just a Western pretext to undermine its power. This is the propaganda spinned by the military junta to cover up Burma’s real situation.”

The bloody repression of the monks’ revolt in September 2007, the growing economic crisis and the possible observance of the 20th anniversary of the massacre of pro-democracy activists on 8 August 1988 worsened the “military’s obsession with security,” pushing them to snuff out any voice that opposed the regime.

“Since 1 August cities are under tight control; temples are patrolled around the clock. No commemoration of the slaughter of 3,000 people in August 1988 was possible.”

Even the iconic figure of Myanmar’s pro-democracy struggle, Nobel prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is in a “civilian no-man’s-land as a result of her long isolation,” first in prison and then under house arrest, which the junta renewed for a year, only allowing her to see her attorney (banned from seeing her since 2004).

Still she can communicate with her people, using panels hung from her home. “Every martyr must accomplish his or her mission,” says one.

Such strong and direct words seem to be a harbinger of bad tidings. Perhaps to avoid this UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari will soon try to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and her lawyer as well as hold official talks with the country’s military rulers. (DS)

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