06/09/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Burmese junta blocks flight of desperate

A boat with 65 people on board, including women and children, was intercepted and stopped by the military marine. It is the first official case of boat people trying to flee the country, where it is still difficult to bring aid because of the restrictions imposed by the ruling regime.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Burmese military marine has stopped 65 people, including 20 women and 15 children, who had boarded a boat in an effort to flee from Bogalay, a city near the border with Thailand, affected by the cyclone Nargis that struck Myanmar last May 3.  According to the humanitarian association Network for Democracy and Development - a non-governmental organisation on the border between Thailand and Burma - the boat and its desperate passengers were intercepted last June 2 near the island Zardatgyi, west of the city of Kawthaung. "They left Bogalay by boat on May 24, aiming to take refuge in refugee camps at the Thai border".

The desperate people have lost their homes and belongings on account of the cyclone Nargis, which devastated the coastal regions of the country, leaving more than 133,000 people dead or missing in its wake.  One month after the tragedy, many people still have received no aid, especially in the areas of the Irrawaddy delta.  "This is the first time we have heard of cyclone victims taking risks to leave their villages", say officials of the NDD.

Myanmar, ruled by a military junta that has been in power since 1962, has been the theatre of constant attempts to flee since the regime carried out a bloody repression of the pro-democracy movement; in 1988, the military leaders massacred 3,000 people and arrested thousands of activists who were asking for greater freedom and human rights.

Today, more than a million Burmese work in neighbouring Thailand, under clandestine or semi-clandestine status, while hundreds of thousands live in temporary welcome centres in the area of the border between the two countries, waiting for a return to democracy.  Because of the devastating effects of the cyclone, it is plausible that there could be a new mass exodus, in part because of the attitude of isolation of the ruling junta, which is still blocking the entry of international humanitarian associations.  With the people living in disastrous conditions, "more victims will emerge", emphasises the NDD, "until and unless there is an immediate and effective rescue and relief program".  According to Irrawaddy Magazine - a monthly published in Thailand that focuses on Burma - at least 100 cyclone victims from the delta and from the capital of Yangon have travelled to Mae Sot, a Thai border town, to seek assistance.

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