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Archive for May 29th, 2008

Myanmar capital in sharp contrast to cyclone zone

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By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer

Myanmar soldiers march during Armed Forces Day ceremonies on March 27, 2007, in the new capital city of Naypyitaw.  The generals moved the capital to a central location north of Yangon with extravagant buildings and massive statues of former Burmese kings.  (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

AP Photo: Myanmar soldiers march during Armed Forces Day ceremonies on March 27, 2007, in the new…

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar – Getting to see one of the world’s most reclusive military strongmen requires a VIP flight, armed escorts and soldiers pointing the way — not to mention a disaster of epic proportions.

Even a calamity the size of Cyclone Nargis hasn’t stopped construction in the newly built capital of Naypyitaw (nay-pee-DAW), Senior Gen. Than Shwe‘s extravagant vanity project. The junta leader and his team of generals have overseen its making since 2005.

Than Shwe‘s rising Shangri-La of officialdom contrasts starkly with the misery in the rest of the country, one of the poorest and most repressed in the world.

A sign outside one government office read, “Can I Help You?” But a few hundred miles south, that was an offer in short supply where thousands of homeless survivors begged for food on the roadsides.

The cyclone’s floodwaters have left more than 2 million people hungry, homeless and at risk of disease. The xenophobic government has admitted it needs foreign expertise and $11 billion to rebuild. But it waited nearly a month to allow some foreign aid workers access to the disaster zone.

During a visit to Naypyitaw, Than Shwe and other top generals received U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last Friday and granted a small group of foreign journalists a rare glimpse inside his palatial compound.

The journey began with a one-hour flight aboard a chartered government plane from Yangon, the former capital known as Rangoon. The 250-mile drive north to the generals’ capital can take a half-day along a potholed two-lane road.

There has never been an official explanation of why the capital was moved so far inland. Some have speculated the junta feared a U.S. invasion. Others say Than Shwe, known to be superstitious, consulted an astrologer. Burmese leaders before him have relocated their seats of power several times.

From the airport, it was a 40-minute drive on a Los Angeles-style eight-lane highway — the widest and smoothest road in the country — to Than Shwe’s opulent meeting room.

Virtually no cars or people were seen, aside from workers hand-sweeping the roadside.

Entering the city required passage through a fenced checkpoint along the highway. The capital has 24-hour electricity, a rarity in Myanmar, but forget cell phone service or international flights.

Soldiers greeted the VIP motorcade with salutes as it moved along the main road, passing sprawling new golf courses and resorts with signs like “The Thingaha — uber cool.” Few people were spotted anywhere.

Inside one resort, well-groomed waiters served cool green melon drinks. At another stop, the group was offered a buffet of seafood, noodles and other local fare on elegant wooden tables. The five-star luxury hotels featured circular driveways, gleaming fountains, shady foyers and sunny pools.

The capital, segregated into military and civilian districts, is surrounded by hills believed to hold a hive of bunkers. Bronze statues of three former Burmese kings pay tribute to a history of military might. Naypyitaw means “abode of kings” in Burmese.

A shopping mall, a high school built like a fortress and a stadium described by one local official as “a training ground for parading” are inside the military area. International reporters are rarely allowed into the country, except to cover the annual military parade.

A sightseeing tour of half-built government buildings led through a massive construction site of unfinished Soviet-style facades. Workers lined up to wave at the passing U.N. diplomats and foreign press.

There was also little sign of life near some of the city’s 1,200 new four-story apartment complexes.

Once at Than Shwe‘s pillared compound, armed guards greeted the group, leading them through a two-story entrance hall that opened onto a 15-foot rock sculpture topped with a serene alpine mural.

Than Shwe and the U.N. chief sat side by side on throne-like chairs with floral upholstery, separated by a bouquet of pink and white flowers and a silver tea set. Chandeliers and ceiling-high depictions of golden pagodas adorned the room.

“He told me that he has never had any such candid meeting with anybody else in the world,” Ban said, hoping that the face-to-face session would hasten the regime’s willingness to accept outside help for cyclone victims.

Naypyitaw is far removed from the hard reality in the rest of the impoverished country, where one in three children is malnourished and many people scrape by on $1 a day.

The senior general, who failed to complete high school, had repeatedly ignored Ban’s phone calls and letters immediately after the cyclone.

Than Shwe thanked Ban for his letters, and apologized for not replying, U.N. officials said. The junta leader said he had no time to personally reply in the aftermath of what he called the worst disaster in the country’s history.

He and two top officials who greeted Ban wore matching khaki-green military uniforms laden with medals, their neatly pressed shirts open at the neck.

Only rarely has Than Shwe been seen in civilian clothes. At the 2006 wedding of his daughter, he wore an orange sarong and white shirt. A secret video of the lavish ceremony surfaced on YouTube, causing outrage in the impoverished country.

In person, Than Shwe is more diminutive than his larger-than-life public persona. Short and bespectacled, the stocky 76-year-old who is known as “the bulldog” was silent when asked by a Western reporter if he had any comment for the outside world.

Behind the giant wooden doors, Than Shwe did all the talking for the first 50 minutes of the two-hour-and-10-minute meeting, according to U.N. officials.

At the end, Ban walked away with a promise of more access for foreign aid workers to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta region.

“This is just the beginning of my dialogue and communication with the Myanmar authorities,” Ban said. “Let us see how this will develop.”

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080529/ap_on_re_as/myanmar_junta_s_hideout;_ylt=AicrCTMA4_H42dsmL6Uf8ypvaA8F

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Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 29, 2008 at 8:26 am

World focus on Burma (29 May 08)

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Latest news on the disaster in Myanmar (Burma)New!

Click here to support the victims of the cyclone in Myanmar (Burma)New!

CSW condemns continued detention of Burma democracy leader

ChristianToday, UK –
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) today condemned the decision by Burma’s military regime to extend once again the house arrest of democracy leader Aung …

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AFP –
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Arizona Daily Star, AZ –
AP PYAPON, Myanmar — It’s not much, but the flimsy bamboo lean-to on the side of the road is all Aye Shwe has to keep his family dry. …

Burma still nixes US military help; China accepts aid, Admiral says

ReliefWeb (press release), Switzerland –
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Reuters –
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World anger over Suu Kyi detention

The Press Association –
World powers have voiced outrage at the decision by Burma’s military government to extend the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. …

Hindu, India –
New York (PTI): The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has asked Myanmar government to “unconditionally” release pro-democracy leader Daw …
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Boston Globe

Aid workers head to Myanmar delta as more visas granted

AFP –
YANGON (AFP) – Relief workers slowly moved into Myanmar’s cyclone-ravaged delta after the junta started to open access, as the United Nations reported on Thursday that all its visa requests had been approved.
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Boston Globe

Indonesia joins in criticism of Myanmar over Suu Kyi

Reuters India –
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The Southern Ledger

Over 40% of cyclone victims in Myanmar receive aid

Xinhua –
UNITED NATIONS, May 28 (Xinhua) — More than 40 percent of the 2.4 million cyclone survivors in Myanmar have received some type of assistance from local, national or international actors, the United Nations said Wednesday.
Foreigners enter cyclone-hit delta, testing Myanmar’s promise AFP
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CBS News

US commander: Navy ships likely to leave Myanmar soon

The Associated Press –
WASHINGTON (AP) – A senior Navy admiral says the US probably will withdraw a group of naval vessels from waters off the coast of Myanmar within days unless the government allows the US ships to offload relief supplies for cyclone victims.
Myanmar Still Refuses US Navy Assistance In Delivering Relief Supplies AHN
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Times Now.tv

‘Peace panties’ from Canada to frighten Myanmar junta

Sify – May 27, 2008
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stv.tv

Focus on saving lives—Ban Ki-Moon

ABS CBN News –
Let us pay our respects to the courage and the resilience of the people of Myanmar, who are suffering such hardship and terrible personal loss.
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Myanmar starts land reclamation in cyclone-worst-hit area

Xinhua –
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Boston Globe

French navy ship delivers aid to Burma

ABC Online –
A French navy ship has docked in Thailand to unload more than 1000 tonnes of supplies for cyclone victims in Burma. The ship is carrying enough food to sustain 100000 people for two weeks.
Angry France diverts Myanmar aid Reuters
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France24
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Canada.com

Myanmar lashes out at “chocolate bar” foreign aid

Canada.com –
The situation remains dire for many survivors in the delta, the “rice bowl of Asia” in the days before what was then Burma won independence from Britain in 1948. The army has started to bury bodies in communal graves, villagers said, although there has …

Myanmar: Closed economy proves to be disaster of its own

Minneapolis Star Tribune –
By NEW YORK TIMES AP NewsAlert YANGON, MYANMAR – A sport-utility vehicle goes for $250000; a cell phone, $3000. As foreign aid workers test Myanmar’s commitment to allow them to provide relief after the cyclone, they face not only administrative …

Myanmar capital in sharp contrast to cyclone zone

Forbes –
The capital has 24-hour electricity, a rarity in Myanmar, but forget cell phone service or international flights. Soldiers greeted the VIP motorcade with salutes as it moved along the main road, passing sprawling new golf courses and resorts with signs …

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Dispatches from Myanmar

Seattle Times –
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Preview: Burma Cyclone Disaster Fundraiser, The Scala, London

Independent –
All proceeds and donations from the event will go to Oxfam’s Myanmar (Burma) Cyclone appeal. State media in Burma have reported a death toll of 78000 since the cyclone hit on 3 May, and aid agencies are facing huge challenges in dealing with the …

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In Myanmar, Loss, Grief and, for Some, Resignation

New York Times – May 26, 2008
AP A family in Pyapon, in Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta, on Monday. Few delta residents have received aid since the May 3 cyclone.
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Activists blast Chevron on human rights, environment

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Burma aid visas approved

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Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 29, 2008 at 8:04 am

Full Coverage: Myanmar (updated 29 May 2008)

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Reuters

Myanmar lashes out at “chocolate bar” foreign aid

Reuters – 1 hour, 34 minutes agoYANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s junta lashed out at offers of foreign aid on Thursday, criticizing donors’ demands for access to the Irrawaddy delta and saying Cyclone Nargis’ 2.4 million victims could “stand by themselves.”

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Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 29, 2008 at 7:39 am

Burma: Cyclone updated top news (29 May 2008)

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A damaged boat lies near the town of Dedaye in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta in this picture taken over the weekend, May 2008. (Stringer/Reuters)

Myanmar lashes out at “chocolate bar” foreign aid

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s junta lashed out at offers of foreign aid on Thursday, criticizing donors’ demands for access to the Irrawaddy delta and saying Cyclone Nargis’ 2.4 million victims could “stand by themselves.”

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In this photo released by Democratic Voice of Burma, members of the Myanmar opposition National League for Democracy party hold a banner and a portrait of party's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, during a march  protest in Yangon, Myanmar Tuesday, May 27, 2008. Myanmar's military junta extended the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, ignoring worldwide appeals to free the Nobel laureate who has been detained for more than 12 of the past 18 years, an official said. About 20 of the protesters were later detained. The banner reads 'Free Aung San Suu Kyi immediately.' (AP Photo/Democratic Voice of Burma, HO)

Myanmar approves all pending visas for UN aid workers

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s isolationist regime has approved all pending visas for U.N. relief workers to enter the country, the United Nations said Thursday, nearly a month after a cyclone left more than 2 million people in need of aid.

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CBS News

US Navy Waiting for Junta’s Permission to Deliver Burma Aid

Washington Post –
By William Branigin The United States is prepared to step up deliveries of relief supplies to Burma from Navy ships off the coast of the cyclone-ravaged nation but cannot wait much longer for permission from Burma’s military rulers, the commander of US …
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Javno.hr

Indonesia joins in criticism of Myanmar over Suu Kyi

Reuters India –
MANILA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s foreign minister chided Myanmar on Wednesday for extending the detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, the first criticism of the junta’s move by a fellow Southeast Asian nation.
Myanmar junta extends Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention WELT ONLINE
Burma junta closes door on Suu Kyi Toronto Star
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Javno.hr

Over 40% of cyclone victims in Myanmar receive aid

Xinhua –
UNITED NATIONS, May 28 (Xinhua) — More than 40 percent of the 2.4 million cyclone survivors in Myanmar have received some type of assistance from local, national or international actors, the United Nations said Wednesday.
UN says raised 60 pct of targeted Myanmar aid Reuters
Myanmar cyclone victims short of food The Daily Yomiuri
FinalCall.comThe Wenatchee World OnlineIRINnews.orgXinhua
all 214 news articles »

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More aid for cyclone victims

BBC – Wed May 28, 9:34 AM ET

A team of Burmese volunteers distribute food and medicine to people in the Irrawaddy delta.

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A family of cyclone survivors  sit together in a hut they built for temporary shelter in Pyapon town, Delta region of Myanmar, Monday, May 26, 2008.  (AP Photo)

Cyclone survivors victimized by Myanmar soldiers

AP – Wed May 28, 3:25 PM ET

PYAPON, Myanmar – It’s not much, but the flimsy bamboo lean-to on the side of the road is all Aye Shwe has to keep his family dry. They lost their home to the cyclone and may soon be uprooted again — this time by soldiers ordering them to leave.

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A damaged home lies near the town of Dedaye in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta in this picture taken over the weekend, May 2008. (Stringer/Reuters)

U.S. ships may leave Myanmar if aid refused

Wed May 28, 2:19 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. warships will soon leave waters near Myanmar if the junta does not allow the American military to deliver food, water and other aid to cyclone survivors, a U.S. commander said on Wednesday.

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Myanmar Rescuers: No Sign of ‘2nd Wave’ Deaths

NPR – Wed May 28, 6:00 AM ET
Myanmar’s military government is allowing international aid workers into the areas hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis. Medical workers say there is no evidence so far of a feared “second wave” of deaths resulting from malnutrition and disease.

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Suu Kyi house arrest extended Play Suu Kyi house arrest extended

BBC – Wed May 28, 8:39 AM ET
Burma’s rulers have renewed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention order for 12 months.

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UN regret at Suu Kyi arrest Play UN regret at Suu Kyi arrest

BBC – Wed May 28, 8:37 AM ET
The UN secretary general has spoken out against Burma’s decison to renew Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest.

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 29, 2008 at 6:52 am

Cyclone survivors say life only gets harder

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Regime forces some to return to ruined homes, others to labor

Many survivors of the cyclone have built temporary shelters like this one in Pyapon town, in Myanmar’s delta. But some say the military is forcing them to return to flooded homes with no hope of rebuilding them.

updated 1:28 p.m. PT, Wed., May. 28, 2008

PYAPON, Myanmar – It’s not much, but the flimsy bamboo lean-to on the side of the road is all Aye Shwe has to keep his family dry. They lost their home to the cyclone and may soon be uprooted again — this time by soldiers ordering them to leave.

Three weeks after the storm, survivors say they are being victimized again, by a military regime that has forced some to return to flooded, collapsed homes and others to labor on reconstruction projects.

Even Myanmar volunteers making the difficult trip into the Irrawaddy delta to deliver food and supplies to survivors are being stopped and detained for hours, and the government has started impounding cars.

“Where my house used to be is still filled with water up to my waist,” said Aye Shwe, pointing to fields of rice paddies in the distance, under water as far as the eye could see. “How can I build a new house there?”

The 52-year-old rice farmer’s mother was killed in the cyclone that left more than 134,000 people dead or missing, and the water buffaloes that were a mainstay of his livelihood drowned in the fierce storm surges.

Still, until this week he had more than many: He managed to fashion a shelter from bamboo poles lashed together with palm fronds laid over one side as a crude roof. His wife and six children huddled together Monday on its raised bamboo floor, sheltering from the searing heat and the downpours that now come daily as monsoon season gets under way.

It’s location on the roadside outside the hard-hit delta town of Pyapon, a four-hour drive from Yangon, had given his family access to the Myanmar volunteers ferrying donated food, water and other aid from the country’s biggest city.

Then the soldiers came and ordered the family and the hundreds of others camped out on the roadside to leave.

Sea of despair
Myanmar’s reclusive government has opened up slightly to the world in the past week, allowing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to meet with some survivors living in tents in a refugee camp the military showed off as a model of its efficient handling of the relief effort.

But the U.N. says as many as 2.5 million people are homeless, facing hunger and potential outbreaks of disease, especially in the low-lying areas of the Irrawaddy delta close to the sea, and only a fraction of them have received any aid.

Hundreds lined the road outside Pyapon this week, squatting in the midday heat with only propped-up palm leaves or tree branches with pieces of cloth flung over them as shelter, hoping for handouts from the occasional passing car.

The government has ordered them not to beg, the refugees said, so only children rushed up to a stopped car with their hands out; the adults just waited, looking beseechingly. Military trucks passed by daily shouting orders over bull horns to leave the road and return home, these people said, though they have nowhere else to go.

“We live from hand to mouth. We have no buffaloes,” said Aye Shwe, adding that he hoped to get permission to remain with his family in their lean-to for the next three months until the monsoon rains end. Asked if he thought that was likely, he looked down and did not reply.

Survivors put to work
The military junta has declared the emergency relief phase of the disaster over and announced reconstruction has begun, ordering able-bodied cyclone survivors to work details, according to aid workers and delta residents.

In the nearby town of Bogalay, where 120 refugees were crammed into the Sankyaung monastery, filled with the sound of rattling coughs and wailing children, the abbot said some survivors had been ordered to construction sites by soldiers.

“Some of the survivors were sent to Ma-ubin last week to build roads now that reconstruction has started,” said the monk, Kawvida, adding he’d heard they were being paid a day wage of about 1,000 kyats — or $1. “They have told me that they are being exploited by some generals.”

He said survivors were given picks and ordered to break up large boulders into pieces of rock for road construction.

Hardships become harder with junta
Inside the temple, volunteers called out names as they distributed bundles of donated clothing to families sleeping on rattan mats under plastic sheets strung from the leaky roof. Behind them, a large Buddha statue was draped with a tarpaulin to protect it from the rain.

“We have received no help from the government,” said Kawvida. “The survivors have been relying on food and other things provided by private donors.”

But some volunteers, especially those affiliated with opposition political groups, have reported being harassed by police or having their vehicles impounded.

Daw Kyi Kyi said she was driving back to Yangon Sunday night after donating slippers, rice and other food to cyclone victims at a monastery in Dedaye, about 40 miles southwest of the city, when three policemen ordered her to drive to a military compound.

“We were told by authorities that we were detained because we created commotion along the route as we delivered relief goods to victims from cars,” the 65-year-old woman said.

She was freed the next morning, but only after authorities took her driver’s license and car registration and charged her with a traffic violation. She said she saw 40 other cars impounded in the compound.

“We didn’t drop food on the road, and we didn’t violate any traffic regulations,” said another volunteer, Nyi Nyi Zaw. “I cannot understand why we were herded into a compound and held there for several hours. This is absurd and very unpleasant.”

In some cases, worried volunteers have abandoned plans to deliver aid. “We collected 80 bags of rice for the cyclone victims in Kunchangone, but we aborted the plan after hearing news of cars being impounded,” said a volunteer, Moe Moe.

That means survivors like 93-year-old Khin Mya, whose only shelter was a red flowered umbrella and a plastic bag, will go without.

“I get very worried every evening because I have to find a place to sleep — maybe under a tree, or if I can share a hut with someone,” the bone-thin woman said. “I must come to the road to receive food from donors or else I will starve.”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24861670/

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Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 29, 2008 at 1:43 am