05/09/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Nargis: the junta barters aid in exchange for "yes" vote on the constitution

The first cases of cholera and an alarm over deaths from hunger. But in the area of Yangon, the officials of the regime are permitting aid for the victims of the cyclone only in exchange for a favourable vote on tomorrow's referendum on the new constitution. The regime clarifies: yes to aid from abroad, but no to aid workers.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - In Myanmar, aid is being bartered after Nargis in exchange for votes in favour of the new constitution, with the sham referendum of the military junta scheduled for tomorrow.  This is recounted to AsiaNews by some of the inhabitants of Yangon, one of the areas hardest hit by the cyclone, which may have killed more than 100,000 people.  While the first cases of cholera are being verified, and food and medicine are in short supply, the junta today clarifies its position on openness to NGOs and international agencies: it can only accept aid, but not foreign aid workers in its territory, repeating its intention to manage distribution itself.

Anonymous sources for AsiaNews in the country report that "members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (editor's note: USDA, an association sponsored by the junta) continue to circulate around Yangon and the surrounding villages, obliging the citizens to vote - in an early and irregular manner - in favour of the constitution, in exchange for food aid.  Even those who want to buy materials to rebuild their homes, or tents and tarps, are being required to give in to the extortion of the USDA".  This is happening, for example, in the municipalities of Thingangyun and north and south Dagon.

This is increasing the well-founded fears, raised by France and the United States, that aid for the victims of Nargis would be used by the junta for its own ends, without regard for the real needs of the population.  In many areas of the Irrawaddy delta, the people have still not received even the most basic aid.  The agency Mizzima News reports testimonies from Laputta, where 80,000 people have died, according to which people are beginning to die of hunger.  In spite of this, the government maintains its stance of suspicious closure against international humanitarian aid workers.  A team of aid workers from Qatar that arrived in Yangon was turned back, because the flight on which the team arrived was authorised only to deliver humanitarian aid.  This is one of 12 international humanitarian flights that landed yesterday in the former capital of the Asian state. "At the moment, Myanmar is not in a position to receive teams of foreign aid workers", writes the newspaper run by the government, Myanma Ahlin. "Nonetheless, the priority of Myanmar is that of receiving aid and distributing it with its own means in the region struck by the cyclone", the newspaper of the regime continues.

China and ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are joining the chorus of worldwide pressure to facilitate rapid aid intervention, but on the other hand they are taking initiatives that confirm them as among the most tenacious "accomplices of the Burmese junta".  Like yesterday, when Beijing and Jakarta blocked at the UN security council the French proposal to enter Myanmar with aid teams even without the consent of the local government, in the name of the "responsibility to protect".  This request was also advanced today by the Burmese opposition.

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Nargis: more than 100,000 dead, the PIME joins aid efforts
08/05/2008
Sham referendum a "success", but Myanmar risks a "disaster"
12/05/2008
Ban Ki-moon will not see Burma’s real catastrophe
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