Junta Obstructs Aid While Burmese Die

The devastation caused by the forces of nature such as cyclones, tsunamis and earthquakes are well known. We have witnessed their fury many times, particularly in the last three years. What we have not witnessed is the intentional criminal neglect by the government of the country. The Burmese government has not only ignored the plight of the suffering masses, but has done all they can to reject and impede the help that the world is eager to provide.

The cyclone that hit Burma (Myanmar) on the third of May, 2008 devastated the heavily populated, rice farming delta region of the Irrawaddy River, including the largest city and, until recently, the capital Rangoon (Yangon).

People all over the world through their governments and through private charities are aching to help, but have been stymied, by the putative Burmese military junta masquerading as a government.

Unlike tsunamis or earthquakes, the cyclone system moves slowly. Modern weather predictions and satellite tracking allows time for governments to help populations prepare for the impending disaster, and where possible evacuation. There is no evidence that the Burmese junta cared to inform the people in the path of the cyclone. Cyclones are a natural phenomenon, neither good nor evil. The Burmese junta has proven to be not only depraved, but criminal, because it does not allow others to help either, transforming a tragedy into a catastrophe.

The United Nations estimates that as many as 120,000 people may be dead and millions are homeless, in dire need of food, shelter and clean water. With the experiences after the tsunami in Indonesia in December 2004, and the earthquake in Pakistan in October, 2005, the UN and international community learned valuable lessons in large scale disaster relief. The first few hours after a disaster are extremely important for the survival of people barely hanging on to the tenuous thread of life.

The response from the international community was immediate. Supplies were on the way, being stored in neighboring countries and relief ships the same day. All that the government of Burma had to do was, say yes. The relief supplies and equipments along with trained aid workers would have poured in.

The Burmese Junta said no. Later under universal condemnation modified it to "yes but". They wanted the supplies to be given to them, and obstinately refused the influx of foreign aid workers. They are scared that aid workers would be carriers of humane ideas and democracy. The United Nations and the relief agencies know the modus operandi of the Burmese Junta. They are sure that the aid will be pilfered; diverted to the well-healed generals and the army. Most of it will not reach the hungry suffering victims in dire need.

Cruel military juntas are efficient in the use and mobilization of the army. The Burmese junta was very efficient in the misuse of the army in the brutal suppression of the peaceful demonstration by the monks in September- October 2007, but the army was nowhere to be seen in the devastated regions of the Irrawaddy delta in the wake of the this cyclone. Yet, the government was telling the UN that its army would help distribute the emergency supplies.

On the contrary, while the people in the Irrawaddy delta are dieing, the junta has spent its attention, meager resources, and man power in holding sham elections in the rest of the country to legitimize its rule. The only local organized help that the people have is from the Monks and the shelters in the monasteries.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has expressed immense frustration that after nine days only a trickle of aid has reached the victims. He has not been able to contact the leader of the junta General Than Shwe in the last nine days. Obviously General Shwe does not care.

Unfortunately, in this show down, the cruel dictators have had their way. This stand-off has already resulted in the death of thousands, who could have been saved in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone. If the food, water and medicine do not reach the survivors, they will die in large numbers because of malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria and other contagious diseases that can be avoided. Children are particularly vulnerable. The international community has reluctantly started to surrender the relief supplies to the Burmese junta.

How has such dastardly government survived for almost forty-five years? It is the same old story. While the democracies condemn the government and have even imposed sanctions in the last few years, they quietly and often illegally trade with it because of rich mineral wealth of Burma. Burmese rubies and sapphires are the best in the world. China is the biggest beneficiary of such trade. To compete with China, India and other south-east Asian countries have regular trade relations with Burma. The French and other oil companies are engaged in petroleum exploration and production, even the US while imposing trade sanctions quietly allowed Chevron Oil Company to trade freely with Burma up to the last November.

Democracies mostly pay lip service to the idea of democracy, while they surreptitiously support dictatorships for their interests, as in the case of Burma. It is time that the citizens of democracies should expose such nefarious deals. The world super-powers have consistently worked to weaken the UN for their own purposes, as we have seen in the case of the Iraq invasion. It is time to strengthen the UN and other international organizations, so that an above-board united action can be taken against the governments that kill and torture their own citizens and invade and torture others.