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Posted by on May 9, 2008 in At TMV | 4 comments

Burma: Military Junta Confiscates Rescue Supplies, UN Threatens to Stop Flights… and Meanwhile…

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The United Nations said it would suspend flights into Myanmar after the military government seized the food and equipment it had sent into the country.

But then, some small portion of detente began to be worked out between the UN with the US, UK, and Burma. We shall see.

Various and sundry claims by relief agencies are flying over the internet today, adding to the garble instead of keeping the facts straight, in part, because no one can get a large enough overview of the facts. By all reports, General Than Shwe, the dictator of Burma has declined to get into a helicopter and survey the damage at close range.

The bottom line for Burma regarding aid at the moment is that those aid workers, such as a small contingent of Doctors to The World, that was already in Burma doing malaria intervention and education, et al,– before the tsunami/cyclone hit– and some Red Cross workers and some church group workers who were already there also before the disaster hit, say they’d been distributing supplies from their cupboards, and those are now exhausted.

Otherwise, if, and it’s a big if, there are other aid workers landed in Burma, it is most likely they are tending to Than Shwe and his friends’ families, or the city where Than Shwe can watch over them. It is highly unlikely, on this, the sixth day after the disaster, that workers and supplies have been given effective and rapid access to those who truly suffer in the interior — which is more than 200 miles from where Than Shwe is enthroned with his junta.

When A Nation’s Leader Chooses Hubris over Humanity, and Why It’s Important To Allow Experienced Relief and Rescue Workers In To A Disaster Site
As a post-trauma specialist working two earthquake disasters in various ways, Armenia and Mexico City, I can attest to the fact that one can load all the aid workers onto transport planes, fill the hold with all the cargo it can carry, fly more than halfway across the world, stopping to refuel at least once, and finally land at the target tarmac….

and then sit on the tarmac in the destination country for days, even weeks, raring to go, fully inoculated for every creeping grunge disease under the sun, full of heart and especially filled with modern skills, and having all the best supplies in the world… and nothing happens, no aid expert is allowed to go to the dying, the ill, or the dead, because the leader of the leader of the country literally bars the way.

More so, in so-called rogue countries, in countries run by juntas, really in any country where the leader is naive or ignorant about catastrophic relief and rescue operations…. often the supplies so lovingly and quickly assembled and shipped are confiscated by the ruling class, and often given to their own first, or sold for profit, or in many cases as with perishable food goods, just stacked in shelters, left to rot.*

This is why it is so very important for a government in a devastated country that might have lots of soldiers, as Than Shwe has by conscription, but has little infrastructure, and perhaps plenty of experience in ignoring or assailing people, but no experience in helping/healing them… to allow experienced aid organizers and service givers to bring in and execute a known and time tested recovery and rescue plan.

For the leader, this means a relinquishment of a certain amount of control. One can see that in a leader who has more experience in personal hubris than in public humanity, this can be quite a leap; but it oughtnt take 6 days to pat Than Shwe’s ego.

It oughtn’t take a pile after pile of newly dead children’s bodies to convince anyone to allow medicine, food and water to those most afflicted in Burma. Those piles of children’s bodies that have come about because of Than Shwe’s lag time may be the very thing he wishes to hide most.

The international community is calling out to Than Shwe to stop perseverating on his own image, or his trying to cover up his own mistakes, and instead to turn to the works of mercy needed now.

If Than Shwe did so, even today, the world would suddenly believe Than Shwe has a heart.

This good article from Asia Pacific reporter Seth Mydans, New York Times, an hour ago:

BANGKOK — As misery grew for a sixth day for uncounted survivors of the devastating cyclone in Myanmar, the United Nations said Friday that the government had seized its relief supplies in Yangon, while a Pentagon official said that the junta had come to a breakthrough agreement to allow a single American aid plane to land on its territory.

Myanmar’s military junta said in a statement on Friday that it was willing to receive disaster relief from the outside world but would distribute supplies itself rather than allowing in relief workers. But aid agencies want to coordinate and control their own aid….

And on Friday, the United Nations World Food Program said the aid it had delivered had been seized. “All the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated,” said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program in Bangkok.

After saying it would halt deliveries, the agency said flights would continue on Saturday while the issue is worked out. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the Myanmar authorities to let aid into the country “without hindrance” and said the effect of further delay could be “truly catastrophic.”

His spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, said Mr. Ban had been trying for two days without success to get in touch by telephone with Than Shwe, the regime’s senior general. “We have been told that the phone lines are down,” she said….

You can read more of Mr. Mydan’s article here

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