Sunday, June 01, 2008

Burma Junta Arrests Local Aid Workers for Handing out Food

May 31st, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Pro_Democracy__web_.JPGFirst to Burma, Where the military junta has finally approved all pending visas for UN staff more than three weeks after Cyclone Nargis.

More foreign relief workers from other groups are also being permitted to enter the Irrawaddy Delta.

The UN estimates that more than two million people still need aid.

And as our correspondent King Kong Janoi reveals local relief workers are being arrested by the military for handing out aid.

Cyclone Victims queue for rice in Twin Tay Township, Rangoon Division.

Some yell ‘come and help us!”

This private aid hand out is far from enough to feed their families.

A Pro-democracy activist who was involved in the September uprising says this shows the military doesn’t care about their people only power.

Private businesses in Rangoon and local groups are providing the majority of aid to the victims.

“We find food for the victims to keep them alive. We collect money from friends and neighbors and then give it to the victims who are living in remote areas where no government aid has reached, they are hungry and we try to feed them.”

There are many kinds of private activist groups working in the Cyclone affected areas - musicians, pro democracy activists and Buddhist monks.

Sayadaw Ashin Nyarnittara chants prays for the dead.

He has been travel across the country giving faith to the victims. He has also traveled overseas to Thailand and Singapore where he described to the exile Burmese community the situation in the cyclone affected areas.

He is raising re-construction fund this way.

“In Bogalay Township, we have turned 50 temples into relief centers. However many of the monasteries don’t have roofs, so we are trying to get supplies to fix that. We are also focusing on fixing the hospital roof and getting medical equipment so the doctors can work.”

It’s this kind of informal aid that is keeping people alive.

The government embarrassed by their actions is cracking down on this private aid groups.

Monks claim the authorities have asked them to hand over the aid to them, so it looks like its coming from the military.

There are even reports of local donors being arrested.

Local donors claim that on the 25th of May 70 donors trucks were stop and their drivers arrested for distributing rice to victims, in the Yangon division.

The authorities detained local aid worker Ko Soe Bay for one night.

“I am so angry about that but it has made me stronger. When we see people struggle with no food or clothes we know we must go on. We will continue our work even if they try to stop us. We are young so can face whatever.”

The UN says that up to 2.4 million Burmese need emergency assistance and has begun raising 200 million dollars for a six-month relief program.

Nearly 80,000 people are said to have died; 56,000 are counted as missing.

Despite the scale of the disaster, the government has focused on the constitutional referendum.

Even in refugee camps, they told victims to vote and how to vote.

Ko Myo Htwe explains what happened on the 24th of May.

“The authorities came just to get a list of all the people here, we can not vote by ourselves. I asked if I could make my vote independently and they said. We would vote NO and that’s not acceptable so they voted YES for us.”

The first round of voting for the cyclone took place on May the 10th in regions spared by the storm.

The state media said the constitution was approved by 92 percent, with a 98 percent turnout.

Activist say the referendum is a line and the international community has condemned the process as a sham.

But right now pro-democracy activist are too busy helping cyclone victims to fight back politically.

“We will continue to fight to achieve our goal. What we are doing we truly believe in so nothing can stand in our way. If they think we believe that the people approve their constitution then they are fools. The youth movement is working underground in the same way as before.”

This activist makes it clear that young people like him are not scared of staging another uprising against the military government.

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