US slams Junta: SMH
The Burma military's obstruction of international aid after Cyclone Nargis came "at a cost of tens of thousands of lives", US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said today.
"Our ships and aircraft awaited country approval so they could act promptly to save thousands of lives - approval of the kind granted by Indonesia immediately after the 2004 tsunami and by Bangladesh after a fierce cyclone just last November," Gates told a regional security forum in Singapore.
"With Burma, the situation has been very different - at a cost of tens of thousands of lives."
Meanwhile, earlier reports said Burma's military government appears to be reasserting its authority over cyclone relief operations. Aid officials say the junta has been forcing survivors out of refugee camps and hindering the access it had promised foreign aid workers.
A UN official said yesterday the government was making cyclone survivors leave camps and "dumping" them near their devastated villages with virtually no aid supplies.
Eight camps set up for homeless survivors in the Irrawaddy delta town of Bogalay were "totally empty" as the clear-out continued, said Teh Tai Ring of the United Nations Children's Fund - UNICEF - at a meeting of UN and private aid agency workers discussing water and sanitation issues.
"The government is moving people unannounced," he said, adding that authorities were "dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing".
After his statements were reported, UNICEF issued a statement saying the remarks referred to "unconfirmed reports by relief workers on the relocation of displaced people affected by" the May 2-3 storm.
In his remarks at the water experts' meeting, however, Teh said the information came from a relief worker who had just returned from the affected area and that "tears were shed" when he recounted his findings earlier in the day.
Separately, at a church in Rangoon, more than 400 cyclone victims from a delta township, Labutta, were evicted today following orders from authorities a day earlier.
"It was a scene of sadness, despair and pain," said a church official at the Karen Baptist Home Missions in Rangoon, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of official reprisal. "Those villagers lost their homes, their family members and the whole village was washed away. They have no home to go back to."
All the refuge-seekers except some pregnant women, two young children and those with severe illnesses, left the church in 11 trucks yesterday morning.
The authorities told church workers that the victims would first be taken to a government camp in Myaung Mya - a mostly undamaged town in the Irrawaddy delta - but it was not immediately clear when they would be resettled in their villages.
An estimated 2.4 million people remain homeless and hungry after the May 2-3 cyclone hit Burma. Burma's government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.
Aid workers who have reached some of the remote villages say little remains that could sustain the former residents. Houses are destroyed, livestock have perished and food stocks have virtually run out. Medicine supplies are nonexistent.
Terje Skavdal, a senior UN official in Bangkok, Thailand, said he could not confirm the camp closures but that any such forced movement was "completely unacceptable".
"People need to be assisted in the settlements and satisfactory conditions need to created before they can return to their place of origins," Skavdal, head of the Asia-Pacific region's UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters. "Any forced or coerced movement of people is completely unacceptable."