05/13/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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“Like prisoners sentenced to die," say Nargis victims

The junta takes over the cyclone-hit area. Burmese volunteers cannot get in and survivors cannot get out. AsiaNews talks to a survivor from the Pathein area who talks about 200,000 dead, lack of food and medicines, people dying like flies. He calls for aid held back in Thailand to be released. He blames regional powers and points the finger at China for trying to slowly colonise the country.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The death toll in Myanmar from the fury of cyclone Nargis could reach as high as 200,000 people, ten times the estimate by the country’s military government, twice that by the United Nations.

As the country tries to cope with a disastrous health situation among survivors and displaced people, with tens of people dying from hunger every day, the ruling junta has virtually taken over the entire area, not preventing only foreign rescue workers from coming in but also Burmese volunteers.

In fact Prime Minister Thein Sein has banned foreigners as well as cameras from the Irrawaddy delta, the hardest hit area.

Contacted by AsiaNews, a teacher from Pathein describes the worsening situation, launching an outspoken appeal on behalf of the country, urging the “international community to put pressure to let in aid held back in Thailand because here we are dying like flies.”

Here is the interview with the anonymous witness. Pathein is one of the hardest hit areas.

What is the situation today in the area struck by Nargis?

According to reliable sources in Yangon, 200,000 people have died. There is no food and drinking water, cholera, dysentery and skin diseases are killing our people like flies.  Many countries want to help us but the junta won’t accept medicines, food or clothing and is not even allowing Burmese volunteers, doctors from the North, into the area. Check points surround the area of the delta and anyone who is not a resident of the affected area cannot get in and survivors cannot get out. We are prisoners sentenced to die. Even the world of show business is mobilising but people are being denied entry visas to hand out aid. Some actors have rice supplies but have not been allowed to deliver them.

What is the most urgent problem?

The international community must do its utmost to make sure that aid and humanitarian workers from various UN agencies and foreign NGOs based in Thailand arrive. Alone we cannot make it and the weakest and poorest will die. Many children are in heart-wrenching conditions. From three meals a day we are now down to one, essentially cooked rice. People are begging in the streets and there is so much hunger that they are no longer paying any attention to what they eat when they get high-energy UN biscuits, something completely alien in the local diet.

What can big powers do?

I think that China and India, the nations with the greatest leeway with the Burmese government, could put pressure to open up the country to foreign intervention, but I have my doubts. I am especially concerned about Beijing’s intentions. China wants to colonise Myanmar, a bit like Tibet. It wants the territory and its resources. Remember that the Burmese junta is ethnically cleansing the area of local groups whilst allowing in thousands of ethnic Chinese for free and granting them citizenship. From Beijing’s point of view the status quo is something very convenient.

What concrete aid comes from the government?

Nothing is coming from the government, and people are not surprised. The generals have never cared for the good of the people; why should they suddenly start now? The only thing they are doing is increasing controls, preventing direct distribution of aid to the population and taking credit for the little aid that is actually trickling in. If a group of people had rice to hand out to the needy, the military would seize it, take its cut and hand out what is left showing off before the cameras as they hand out packages on which they stuck a government label. In the cities, even in the areas unaffected by the cyclone, soldiers are everywhere, not helping in reconstruction but making sure that no one rebels or protests. In the streets junta thugs roam (an old trick in the junta’s bag) and beat up anyone who dares raise their head, and all this for two dollars a day and a hot meal.

How do you explain the regime’s stubbornness towards foreign aid?

You have to consider the generals’ hatred for the West and foreigners who are seen as carriers of deviant idea. In the areas struck by Nargis there are separatist groups like the Karen National Union which have not signed any cease-fire with the regime. Many of them are Christians, a minority the government oppresses. More than half of the population supports Aung San Suu Kyi (the pro-democracy leader under house arrests) and what concerns the junta the most is not give an inch of power.

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