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Archive for June 23rd, 2008

Private relief efforts for cyclone survivors fill a gap in Myanmar

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See the video of relief work for Cyclone victims in Burma

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-myanmar22-2008jun22,0,846380.story

From the Associated Press
1:18 PM PDT, June 21, 2008
LABUTTA, MYANMAR — Bloggers may find their messages blocked by Myanmar’s military regime, but that hasn’t stopped Nyi Lynn Seck from raising tens of thousands of dollars for cyclone survivors through his website.

The 29-year-old IT specialist and his friends are getting their hands dirty and putting the donations to work by helping to build “Budget Huts” in the Irrawaddy River delta, a region still reeling from the May 2-3 Tropical Cyclone Nargis.

Days after the storm hit, Nyi Lynn Seck traveled from Yangon, the principal city, to the delta to document survivors’ stories. He posted their accounts and his photographs on his Web journal.

“I have been blogging for quite a long time and many overseas Myanmar citizens read it. They wanted me to go to the delta and help out,” he said.

Nyi Lynn Seck quit his job as a manager at a software company to lead six volunteers, including four other bloggers, on a mission to aid villages near the town of Labutta. They have been here since May 9.

He is an example of a grass-roots movement that has emerged in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Many of those doing private relief work are highly critical of the government response to the disaster.

Private efforts have filled some gaps in the relief effort, especially in the early weeks after the storm, when the government turned back most foreign relief workers. After pleas from the United Nations, the ruling generals agreed to accept international aid, but it still limits the activities of foreigners in the country.

Nyi Lynn Seck said most of the $30,000 received by the group came from Burmese expatriates in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, but that money had come in from as far as Europe.

Myanmar’s government, which strictly controls media, including the Internet, blocks most blogging sites. However, they are sometimes accessible by using a server that masks the site’s true origin.

Bloggers played a major role in ensuring the free flow of information during anti-government protests in Myanmar last fall and the violent crackdown that followed. At least one blogger, Nay Phone Latt, remains in prison.

Nyi Lynn Seck’s blog has included personal observations, advice for would-be bloggers and news items. It has not been seen as anti-government.

Nyi Lynn Seck said he became an aid worker because he thought the government’s response to the storm, which killed 78,000 people and left 56,000 missing, was inefficient.

“The government doesn’t rely much on a system or technology and they don’t know what to do. They work only on paper, so the help was really delayed,” he said.

Nyi Lynn Seck picked up his black leather laptop case and pulled out a stack of slides he shows to would-be donors. He also has two models of shelters, dubbed “Budget Huts,” made of wood and plastic.

The group, which calls itself Handy Myanmar Youths because it wants to lend a hand to survivors, has put up 88 huts in delta villages.

Such volunteerism is not always welcomed by the government. A popular comedian was taken from his Yangon home by police this month after going to the delta to help survivors.

Many Myanmar volunteers and the local staff of foreign aid agencies pack their vehicles with food, water and other supplies when heading into the delta; several have been harassed by police or their vehicles have been impounded.

Nyi Lynn Seck said the government approved his group’s project after they detailed their plans to authorities in Labutta and declared that no foreigners were directly involved.

The group makes five-to- six-hour trips by boat to coastal villages to deliver materials and tools to build the huts and supervise the construction, which is done mostly by survivors.

Because of the tides, the volunteers are unable to return to Labutta on the same day, so they usually spend at least one night sleeping on the bare ground without shelter from mosquitoes. Several have fallen ill.

The blogger said the group’s most pressing concerns were about sustaining the project despite the high price of materials and transportation.

“Now the biggest problem is that we’re having trouble finding wood in Labutta, and the wood is also getting very expensive,” Nyi Lynn Seck said.

“As long as there are funds and donors, hopefully we can keep this up for another two to three months here,” he said. “But I’m not so sure about the future.”

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-myanmar22-2008jun22,0,846380.story

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

June 23, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Harrowing stories from Cyclone Nargis

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MSF article

June 23, 2008

“While we were in the villages, we heard a lot of stories about the cyclone. Apparently the sky went red and they heard a very loud noise. The rain and the wind started at the same time, but the wind was very strong. The water levels rose to 12 feet high, so the villages near the river were completely overwhelmed.

Kim (not her real name)is a, nurse, 26, who normally works for MSF in one of the rural projects in Myanmar. She has been with MSF for about two years and normally works on primary health care. She has been working in the Delta for three weeks assisting in the MSF emergency programs following Cyclone Nargis and is now having a few days rest in Yangon before heading back to Pyapon.

“I didn’t hear about the cyclone until a week after it had happened. I was staying in a very rural part of the state where I work. It is very difficult to communicate in the village where I was staying, and it is a long way from the state capital. There is no television there and because all the telephone lines were down, I first heard about the cyclone on the radio.

“The first thing that I heard was that Bogale and Setsan areas had been very badly damaged and that many people had died. Then we were called back to the state capital. We were told that they needed four nurses to travel down to the Delta, so I decided to volunteer because I wanted to help the people who had been affected by the cyclone.

“We first traveled down to Yangon, then after two days we went to Pyapon. I noticed that there were a lot of people living in temporary shelters next to the main road. This was because all the houses in the villages had been damaged in the storm, so people had to come and live by the road.

“All these houses were very small and not big enough for the families. The houses were made out of palm leaves that they had found from coconut trees – this was to try to keep the rain out. This was because they could not afford to buy any construction materials because after the cyclone the cost doubled. But even so, a lot of shops had already run out of construction materials and it was impossible to buy any. When I arrived in Pyapon all the houses seemed to be damaged. Almost all of them had lost their roof.

“From Pyapon, we traveled out to quite a lot of smaller villages. One of the things that I noticed were all the dead bodies. There were so many, especially lots of children. There were also lots of dead animals, especially water buffalos and pigs.

“I was surprised because, although I didn’t arrive until two weeks after the cyclone, there were still a lot of dead bodies which smell really bad. The problem was that people had to survive. They have to rebuild their homes and find clean water and food, so they are not interested in clearing away the dead bodies – there is still too much to do.

“People don’t really seem to care that they are living among dead bodies – I saw quite a lot of people showering in water that had bodies floating in it, but luckily they know not to drink that water.

“Drinking water is a big problem. Most villages had some sources of clean water, such as a lake. But the lakes have now become contaminated because people or animals died there so we had to pump out the water. MSF provides big water tanks, but the problem is that they are difficult to transport, so we can only bring them to villages close to the road or big rivers.

“Many people walk to villages to collect water, so we give them jerry cans to collect the water. People who live in other villages have to collect rain water, so we give them jerry cans or they walk to Pyapon to collect them and bring them back to their villages.

“When we first arrived at Pyapon there were hardly any staff and expat staff were not allowed to travel at that time. We were split into two teams, and we traveled to the villages in our teams.

“When we arrived in the villages we had three jobs to do. First we would assess how many people lived there and what the needs were. Then we would find a place, such as a school, where we could do distribution. Most houses had no roofs so we would give everyone a tarpaulin and a jerry can. After we had finished the distributions we would start medical consultations. The problem was that there were too many people who needed medical consultations, so we had to prioritise treating the under fives first. We would check their nutritional status, and if they were in danger of malnutrition we would give them Plumpynut, which is a ready to use nutritional supplement.

“We would assess other patients for diarrhea and check their wounds. A lot of people had badly infected wounds because they hadn’t been able to clean them properly.

“Now there are three teams when we go to the villages. Some people are in charge of doing the assessments, other people do distributions and medical teams do consultations. I’m happy because now we get to see all the patients who need treatment.

“While we were in the villages, we heard a lot of stories about the cyclone. Apparently the sky went red and they heard a very loud noise. The rain and the wind started at the same time, but the wind was very strong. The water levels rose to 12 feet high, so the villages near the river were completely overwhelmed.

“The villagers said it was impossible to see the land and a lot of the coconut trees were destroyed. A lot of houses were completely submerged by the water.

“Some people ran to the monasteries because the monasteries tend to be higher than people’s houses. In one village everyone climbed onto the roof to keep out of the water. But the roof could not take the weight of all the villagers and it collapsed. Everyone drowned who could not swim. People had to hold onto anything that they could find to stop themselves from drowning.

“One father who could swim tied string around the wrists of all his children, so that they would not be separated or swept away. But the cyclone went on for too long, and he couldn’t swim any longer. Afterwards they found the whole family drowned, tied to one another by the string.

“The wind was also a big problem. One monk told me that he had been lifted from one side of the village to another. Another man was worried about his mother all alone in her house in the other side of the village. He left his own house and went to his mother’s house to bring her to his own house where she would be safe. But as they were walking to his house she was blown away and killed. He feels very bad and blames himself for her death.

“Most of the villagers had lost all their clothes because they had been torn off their back by the force of the wind. People had to steal clothes from some of the dead bodies because they were so ashamed of having nothing to wear. Other people used their longhis (Burmese sarongs) to tie themselves to coconut trees, which was how they had managed to survive.

“My colleague was working in Bogale and told me about some of the things that happened there. There are two big boats in that village and a lot of people had taken shelter in the boats. One of the boats was tied to a tree by a rope and everyone survived. But the rope holding the other boat broke, and the boat was destroyed. Everyone sheltering in that boat drowned.

“We also heard some good stories about the night of the cyclone. A lot of women went into labour that night so the midwife was very busy. She did a very good job, so many people have decided to name their children after her!

“A lot of families are very crowded together because they have lost their homes. Normally you have about four of five families staying together in one house. This is not good because disease can spread quickly this way. People really need building materials so that they can get their own houses. They are also in need of food.

“Some people were really starving before they got any aid. In one village they had nothing to eat, so they had to take one of the pigs that had died in the cyclone and eat it. I felt really sick when I heard this story but they had no food and otherwise they would have starved to death.

“People are also scared to eat the fish because they are worried that the fish have been eating the dead bodies. I don’t know if this is true but I think that people are very scared about disease.

http://www.msf.org/msfinternational/invoke.cfm?objectid=B4C74446-15C5-F00A-25084BB5EB234EF7&component=toolkit.article&method=full_html

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

June 23, 2008 at 1:07 pm

Than Shwe’s Grandson in Drug Scandal

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By WAI MOE

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Irrawaddy

Nay Shwe Thway Aung, until now the favorite grandson of Burmese head of state Snr-Gen Than Shwe, is reportedly at the center of a drug scandal in Rangoon.

A source close to the military elite told The Irrawaddy on Monday that two men close to Than Shwe’s grandson were arrested by police on suspicion of procuring ecstasy pills for him.

“I heard the family found some ecstasy pills on Nay Shwe Thway Aung last month,” the source said. “Then Aung Zaw Ye Myint [the son of Lt-Gen Ye Myint, a high-ranking general] and Maung Waik [a well-known business crony] were arrested in connection with the drugs.”

While rumors of the scandal began circulating the former capital, there were no birthday celebrations for Than Shwe’s grandson on May 22, the day he turned 17.

“Normally they have a big birthday party for the grandson every year,” said the source. “But this year, there was not even a small party among relatives.”

Last year, a birthday party was reportedly held in honor of Nay Shwe Thway Aung at Rangoon’s exclusive Sedona Hotel. Among the party guests were the wives of top junta leaders Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye and Gen Shwe Mann, as well as Zaw Zaw, a well-known business crony and director of Max Co, and popular rock musician Zaw Win Htut.

Two weeks ago, sources told The Irrawaddy, a family religious ceremony was held at one of Than Shwe’s houses in Rangoon, but Nay Shwe Thway Aung was conspicuously absent.

Nay Shwe Thway Aung is a familiar face in Burma because he usually accompanies his grandfather on inspection tours throughout the country and enjoys red-carpet treatment wherever he goes.

Aung Zaw Ye Myint and Maung Waik were detained in May accused of selling drugs to Rangoon’s elite. At that time, several Burmese celebrities and businessmen were reportedly interrogated by a special drugs task force.

Last year, a famous actor, Dwe, died of heart failure caused by a drugs overdose, according to various sources.

But Rangoon residents have been surprised by the amount of rumors and gossip surrounding the recent drug scandal and a crackdown which appears related to the military elite and their cronies.

Some observers in Burma have suggested the drugs arrests were a smokescreen for a fresh power struggle within the military hierarchy. They claimed that Maung Waik is close to Gen Shwe Mann, the number 3 man in the junta.

Drug use among high-society families and celebrities has been an open secret for years in Burma. Late dictator Gen Ne Win’s three favorite grandsons—Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win— also enjoyed considerable family perks and were constantly rumored to be addicted to ecstasy pills.

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–>http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=12920

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

June 23, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Varieties in English

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Work-shy Myanmar buffaloes add to farmers’ woes

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Mon 23 Jun 2008, 7:10 GMT

By Aung Hla Tun

DEDAYE, Myanmar (Reuters) – With a planting deadline looming, rice farmers in cyclone-hit parts of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy delta have hit a problem — donated oxen and water buffaloes are refusing to work because they are stressed.

“Thanks to donors and arrangements by the government, we are getting buffaloes and oxen, and in some cases small tractors and tillers, almost free of charge,” said Ko Hla Soe, a farmer in Dedaye, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Yangon.

“Now, to our surprise, the problem is that most of the buffaloes and oxen will not work hard. They cannot immediately be used effectively,” he told Reuters.

As well as leaving 134,000 people dead or missing when it ripped into the delta on May 2, Cyclone Nargis killed around 200,000 farm animals, 120,000 of which were used by farmers to plough fields in the former Burma’s “rice bowl”.

The military government and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has identified replacing these draught animals as a priority to allow farmers in the devastated areas to start growing their own food again.

The task has not proved as simple as it sounds.

The few animals that survived the storm are understandably traumatised and reluctant to work, farmers say, and those brought in as replacements are taking a long time to settle in to their new surroundings.

“Animals can get stress too,” Ohn Kyaw, a senior official at the Ministry of Livestock Breeding and Fisheries, told Reuters.

“The change of owners and environment is having a psychological impact on them. They’ve had to travel for days by sea or by land and they are bound to suffer from stress,” he said, although he added that they should get over it.

The government had donated 1,971 draught animals as of June 22, and was working on distributing another 600 donated by the FAO as soon as possible, he said.

FAO expert Albert Lieberg said getting enough replacements into the delta was a major logistical operation, especially since working pairs of buffaloes need to be kept together.

“You have to make sure that these two animals stay together up to the very end,” he told a news conference in Bangkok last week. “It is a lot of psychological stress for the animals.”

Unfortunately for the farmers, who prefer buffaloes to mechanical tillers due to a lack of fuel, time is not on their side.

“Unless our rice is planted by the end of this month, it will be too late,” Ko Hla Soe said. “And even if we get it in on time, we cannot expect as big a crop as before.”

(Editing by Ed Cropley and Sanjeev Miglani)

http://africa.reuters.com/odd/news/usnBKK52581.html

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

June 23, 2008 at 11:39 am

World focus on Burma (23 June 2008)

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Myanmar retires elderly junta lieutenant generals
Earthtimes (press release), UK –
Yangon – Amid signs that Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Than Shwe has tightened his grip over the military, at least five lieutenant generals have …

Restrictions Tightened on Cyclone Refugees Bound for Thailand

The Irrawaddy News Magazine, Thailand –

Refugees are also trying to reach Thailand by boat from the Irrawaddy Delta and southern Burma, via the Gulf of Martaban. A Burmese pro-democracy group, …

Burmese military undergoes major reshuffle

Democratic Voice of Burma, Norway –

Former military officer major Aung Set Paing said that perceived mistakes made in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis could have played a role in the reshuffle. …

Harrowing stories from Cyclone Nargis

Medecins Sans Frontieres, Belgium –

Kim (not her real name)is a, nurse, 26, who normally works for MSF in one of the rural projects in Myanmar. She has been with MSF for about two years and …

Why the ‘World’ Cannot Intervene against Poisonous Governments

Family Security Matters, NJ –

Now another category has surfaced in Burma, the fiefdom of a horrible government of military thugs. Their thuggery was ignored by the “world community” …

Authority in Arakan Prohibits Watching Nargis Video

Narinjara News, Bangladesh –

Now Nargis is not related to politics but the authority is not allowing us to watch a VCD documenting the cyclone. I am really surprised at such a …

Small Steps of Progress in Rebuilding Iraq

Salem-News.Com, OR –

They are one of the groups that was able to access Burma

Daewoo consortium signs gas supply deal with China

Reuters –

Few western companies will invest in the former Burma because of its poor human rights record and continued detention of Nobel Peace Prize …

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Is the sky falling? Americans think so

Inquirer.net, Philippines –

… afflicting the United States—more than 69000 people dead in the earthquake in China; 78000 dead and 56000 missing from the cyclone in Burma (Myanmar). …

India, Burma to hold border trade talks

Radio Australia, Australia –

India and Burma will sign an investment pact and hold talks on wider border trade as a sign of expanding ties. Officials in India say it will also offer …

Myanmar honours Most Ven. Weligama Gnanaratane Thera

Ceylon Daily News, Sri Lanka –

… felicitate the Most Venerable Weligama Gnanaratane thera on his receiving the prestigious title of Agga Maha Panditha from the Union of Myanmar(Burma). …

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

June 23, 2008 at 3:53 am

Posted in World Focus on Burma

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