The need for humanity amidst the need for survival

25 December 2008

My friend's brother once said; "If you were to take pity on anyone in Burma, you would have to extend your sympathy to almost everyone in Burma because they are all struggling just to survive". Such need for survival has unfortunately and probably compelled most of the Burmese people to turn oblivious to those who are worse off than them. That conclusion seems even more probable after I read the Irrawaddy's report on the plight of elderly people on the streets of Burma [Irrawaddy - "Seniors on the streets"].

My friend recounted to me how the eyes of an old lady, begging on the streets of Burma, lighted up brightly when my friend's niece gave her three pieces of 1000 Kyat notes. and how she said a string of well wishes for the girl with so much gratitude. With the black-market rate, this amount will come to not more than around US $3. However, to that old lady, it was a significant amount.

With the kind of government whose focus is just to fill their own pockets as much as possible, and after being hit by the natural disaster like Nargis, Burma has become like an abyss when it comes to donations. Everywhere, everything - be it health care, education, social well-being of the people, political prisoners and their families, etc - is deteriorating and at every turn in the streets, we are faced with the sights of poverty and suffering aplenty. Many people point to the junta as the root cause of all this. That is true. However, I've come to realise that while this junta is still in power, we must find ways to help alleviate the suffering of our people. And money or rather donation has become essential.

As the whole world feels the impact of global economic crisis, donations for Burmese people from NGOs and private individuals will inevitably dip amidst the sense of uncertainty for the future. In addition, a number of Burmese working overseas have to face the retrenchment and among them might include those who have been sending donations for the people in Burma. Moreover, many individuals may have reached a point where their struggle for their own survival seems sufficient enough to justify their own conscious for having to turn a blind eye towards the conditions of people in Burma. Or they may even feel the donation-fatigue syndrome after not being able to see any tangible improvement in the lives of the people.

In fact, I am also hit by such sentiments at times. Whenever that happens, I am reminded of this Burmese proverb which can be translated as; "You do not donate as you do not have the means. You end up not having the means as you do not donate". Because of such belief, Burmese in olden days try their very best to donate within their own means or sometimes even at the expense of their own well-being, to gain merit to have better next lives. It could be as small as just a piece of bread or a bowl of rice. Nowadays, their day-to-day struggle for survival has become so grim that many people can just think of how to get through this life, let alone think about next life.

Such happenings make me wonder whether our sense of humanity will eventually be annihilated in our struggle for survival. If such day were to come, I cannot imagine what might happen to the people in a country - where some people lose their lives or face serious health risks as they have to resort to illegal means of abortion just because there is no proper education and subsidy for family planning methods and they cannot afford to have another child: another mouth to feed [Irrawaddy - "Desperate Decisions"].


Improved Burma for all

30 November 2008

During my recent trip to Burma, a business acquaintance of mine, a foreigner, who has spent the last five years in Burma, commented that the living standard in Burma is improving and Burma is opening up with the booming of five-star hotels, resorts, and restaurants etc. Right after her remark, our car passed by two frail-looking elderly begging on the platform. When we stopped at a traffic light, a couple of boys; young enough to be attending a primary school, appeared besides our car's window hoping to sell some Burmese journals to us.

I turned to look at my acquaintance and said, "I think Burma seems to be improving only for a handful of elites".

Indeed, Burma has improved. Whenever I go back, I see more buildings, more hotels, and more restaurants springing up and with them, came the rising prices as well. One bowl of mont-hin-gar (favourite breakfast dish for Burmese) at an above-average eatery can cost almost 1,000 Kyat and a book by a well-known Burmese author can go up to 3,000 Kyat, etc. With most of the items in the price range of thousands and with the average salary of 40,000 - 50,000 Kyat for a fresh IT graduate at a private company, the locals struggle to survive in Burma. Most of them try to find jobs in foreign companies or NGOs which pay them in US dollars; deemed to be better pay than local terms and better value than local currencies. Such jobs become highly sought after.

The number of expatriates also seems to have grown in Burma. All the hotels and restaurants are mainly filled with foreigners. There is a boom of various types of businesses such as restaurant, spas, saloons, pubs etc, to cater to such circle of people. Having gone there on expatriates' packages, life in Burma seems rather lavish for them; a great distinction from the locals in the country.

Being one of those Burmese, considered to be fortunate enough to have been able to move to another country in search of a greener pasture, I find myself being among the group of people with above-average spending-power whenever I return to my home country for a visit. With the declining value of Burmese currency in the black market, constantly rising prices in Burma fail to cause a big hole in our pockets.

In contrast, with the natural disaster like Nargis, and ruthless junta who only act in their own interest, the lives of my countrymen in Burma seem to have been dragged further down into the poverty. The world is facing a financial crisis and turmoil in various places like Thailand, and Mumbai etc. Amidst all these chaos, Burma may be forgotten once again by the international community. Burma may become once again just a tourist destination, an exotic country with splendid scenery to look forward to.

As we curl ourselves up in our happy cocoons, we sometimes fail to reach out of our comfort-zone. Though I still continue with my necessary expenditures in Burma whenever I go back there, my heart always remains aware of the fact that a large percentage of my people are suffering. I feel that it is of paramount importance for foreigners in Burma; be it expatriates or tourists, to be at least mindful and empathetic of the conditions of the local people.

As my people try hard to remain afloat under dire conditions in life, I can feel their spirits waning. The blood of those who have sacrificed remains dried on the streets of Burma. The souls of those who have sacrificed seem to be forgotten.

Another Christmas is coming. Another year is ending. How many more Christmas will there be before Burma improves for people from all walks of life and not only for the handful of elites?


Myanmar-Bangladesh Energy Crisis

08 November 2008

[News Source: AFP,6Nov, 2008]

Dhaka, (AFP)-A simmering dispute between Bangladesh and neighbouring Myanmar in a hydrocarbon-rich stretch of the Bay of Bengal has highlighted Dhaka's desperate plight over dwindling gas supplies, say analysts.

Bangladesh this week took the unusual step of deploying four naval ships to the disputed waters -- claimed by each nation as their own -- after its southeastern neighbour began gas exploration activities there.

Dhaka says it will take "all possible measures" to protect the zone, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Bangladesh's Saint Martin Island.

The military-backed interim government has meanwhile sought to resolve the dispute diplomatically, dispatching its foreign secretary to Myanmar to hold crisis talks.

A senior official from Myanmar's military government said they were open to discussions, but insisted that oil and gas companies were operating inside their territory and far away from the disputed sea boundary.

Myanmar also insisted that the United States was involved and stirring up trouble -- an accusation denied by Washington.

Regardless of what sparked the face-off, experts say Bangladesh has taken an unusually strong stance, especially towards a country it has generally enjoyed friendly relations with.

"There's a chance we might find gas in the Bay of Bengal. India and Myanmar have already discovered gas there so it's crucial for Bangladesh to assert its territory. A lot is at stake," said energy expert Nurul Islam, from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Bangladesh has been facing an acute shortage of gas in recent months with demand outstripping supply by 15 percent thanks to its booming manufacturing sector.

The government has told hundreds of factories they will have to wait until 2011 for new supplies, as years of neglect over exploration have fast depleted gas reserves.

To overcome the crunch, the emergency government earlier this year divided its sea territory into 28 blocks and invited bids from international oil companies for exploration contracts.

Myanmar protested the move, although Bangladeshi officials have said they refrained from awarding contracts for blocks lying in disputed waters.

Security expert Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University said Bangladesh's actions this week were aimed at deterring foreign companies who had been awarded contracts by Myanmar to search for gas in the region.

"The government is trying to send a signal to foreign oil companies and the international community that it would take any drillings in the disputed blocks very seriously," Ahmed said.

"Under international laws, Myanmar cannot drill in disputed waters, which have not been demarcated yet."

Ahmed said all seismic surveys showed huge gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal, which would ensure Bangladesh's energy security for decades.

"It's a matter of our future. We may not be rich now but our economy is growing fast. Soon enough we'll have the capacity to drill in deep sea waters," he said.


DASSK's role in Burma

07 October 2008

After reading Irrawaddy's commentary, "Where would Burma be without Suu Kyi" by Kyaw Zwa Moe, I wondered where Burma would really be without DASSK.

Though DASSK played a significantly large role in bringing about the events mentioned by Kyaw Zwa Moe, I believe that her ability to provide a "human touch in politic" rather than anything else, is what makes her irreplaceable in the history of Buma.

DASSK has sincerely dedicated more than a decade of her life to Burma and in return, we, Burmese people, have given her our utmost faith. Her unwavering stand for Burma has been a source of inspiration for many of us. Without a doubt, we are also full of pride for someone like her who can remain tall among the world leaders.

Although many of us cannot imagine Burma without her, we have to face reality that DASSK cannot defy the natural cycle of life. There will eventually come a day when we will have to carry on our own. When such time comes, it is our responsibility to keep her determination, spirit and dedication (for Burma) resonating in our hearts and souls and act upon those in the same way as she would have done.

Only then, we can say for sure that Burma would never be without DASSK.


18 September 2008

I incur the downfall as the result of lacking concentration through out the previous period at work. Since last September, I have been looking for more on my country than myself.

I woke up with the thought of what happened the previous night to Burma. I ate with the news of arresting, protests, and prediction about Burmese's future. I stared at the computer screen the whole day and thought about what would be right; what would be wrong; which would be the best way; what would be the meaning of the most famous and popular word 'DEMOCRACY' for us; whose words were the most dramatic and realistic way for the freedom of my homeland; how to built a free and equal, develop physically mentally and multinational republic nation along with some kinds of big open and best mind, etcetera etcetera. I did it emotionally, hopefully and enthusiastically. I even dropped some of my long-lost tears for the photo shots and videos of the events. I listened the songs of Ga Bar Ma Khay, Do BaMar, and 8888 with big voraciousness of the freedom for my homeland.

As a young man, my opinion fall onto the area of revolution by any means as our National Father Bo Gyote Aung San did though I still believe in people power as the only possible way so far. I wanted to be a part of it. But I knew that something was not right for me. I didn't have enough courage for going back to the home and doing it. I am sure if I were in Yangon last September, I would be at the front line and no one would be able to predict my life now. I sorrowfully come to know and accept as many young Burmese like myself do not have enough courage or enough knowledge to do it, to risk their life or, more than that to risk their family members life. They also do not believe in the current environment of fighting for democracy. True words hurt us sometime.

"It's not enough to care about the world. Caring and feeling emotions is a waste of time and energy. Unless we get up and do something about the things we care about, it would be irrelevant."
[1997 Nobel Peace Laureate, Jody Williams]

The above words clean me a lot of my confusion. I got this from a famous Burmese blog, The One Whose Name Gyittu's odds and ends. It is absolutely right to me. We may get some advantages for caring others or worrying about them without going through with any exercise. Nobody doubts it will be definitely better and more productive if we exercise it.But knowing and exercising is still a bit, perhaps a big, different to me. I am not a hero. Sadly, I understand that without the young Burmese active efforts there will not be any freedom to our future as the only way to effect change is to participate by all Burmese and I also do feel it like my responsibility though, honestly, I am still afraid of picking it up to my shoulders. At last, I have to accept I am still an ordinary Burmese who does not have anything enough to fight from the front line and being like this is also a main reason of full of oppression in Burma instead of freedom. But I believe strongly that our bad era will surely come to demise one day in which we all boldly united and I am now trying to be there.


Time to consider the most critical objectives

21 August 2008

Today, I read a commentary from Irrawaddy, titled "Danish Viewpoint Merits Debate". It analyses the impact of economic sanctions and tourism boycott on Burma.

This debate on how effective the economic sanctions and tourism boycott against Burma seems to be ongoing for a considerable amount of time without being able to reach to a favorable consensus. I feel that the pros and cons behind such debate are also not as straightforward as the writer has stated in his commentary.

First of all, in such profit-driven world, even the governments which have adopted the universal economic sanctions on Burma, may be unable to persuade their countrymen to do the same. And Burma offers too many lucrative business opportunities to resist for companies driven largely by their profit and loss, rather than by the "humanitarian grounds". The same idea is applicable to those countries in ASEAN as well as China and India, etc. As long as such situation remains, whether we like it or not, I believe trade sanctions will end up as nothing more than just showing support for our democracy movement.

Secondly, though a large pie of revenue from tourism industry goes into the pockets of the junta and their associates, it still seems reasonable to think that many restaurants, guest-houses, hotels, and resorts that sprung up to cater for the tourists, have created a certain number of job opportunities, regardless of how insignificant the number might be, for Burmese people.

Many travelers, being empathetic towards the plight of Burmese people under the hands of repressive junta, have rallied among their own community to stick to private-owned small guest-houses and eateries, etc in the hope of not becoming a contributor towards the pockets of the junta and their associates. Such actions, though arguable at their effectiveness, seem to provide a more down-to-earth approach in supporting the livelihood of some of the common people in Burma.

Having said all this, there will always be two camps to this kind of debate. At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves what is the best practical support for our Burmese people, not forgetting that when a person is suffering in poverty, and dying from malnutrition, the meaning of democracy no longer seems critical to him.


Mr Bush, why only now?

14 August 2008

I was reading this article from Irrawaddy by Aung Zaw about his recent encounter with Bush.

No doubt, to many of us, Bush appears as an amicable man who has genuine interest and concern for Burma and its citizens. In fact, when Bush took up the presidency, I was elated to have someone who seemed prepared to take on a tougher stand against the junta. Now, despite Aung Zaw's generous comments about his "seemingly wonderful" encounter with Bush, I can't help but just to say "talk looks really good on the table".

My question to Bush: Mr Bush, why do you have time for Burma only when your term in office is almost over?


Past is haunting - Present is daunting

06 July 2008

Burma is in fact country of many black historic days. Ceaseless massacres were happened all along under bloody wrong hand. Memorials and anniversaries have to hold year round as many as seasonal festive celebrations of Burma calender. Now on July, two prominent black days are awaiting to haunt recent regime of killer generation. These are 7 July massacre and 19 July Martyrs day.

Notionally, 7 July is a bit different from 19 July, in which, Burma national hero, general Aung San and his cabinet members were assassinated. But, deep in reality, hatred, jealous, shortsightedness, paranoid and inhumane natures were the main causes and rooted in every corner of Burma history. Another difference is that 19 July, Martyr day is official Public Holiday in Burma but 7 July mourning day has yet to be recognized and publicized.

On that July 7, back in 46 years ago, groups of unarmed University students were killed by machine gun on the very spot of historic Rangoon University Compound. And the next day , early in the morning, Burma Student Union Building was abruptly destroyed by the wicked hand of military coup d'etat. The reason was that students were annoying and appeared as destructive elements to them, aired on state owned radio by the then coup leader, General Ne Win. He stressed his speech with unforgettable phrase - " an sword for sword, an spear for spear, we have to fight back" . But this had just been bitterness for people all over the country, as all know who actually use sword and spear.

Coup leaders might think that they could possibly eliminate and conquer any of obstacles just by killing and torturing. 26 years after this incident, however, they had realized that past is still haunting and history is rewound itself. Burma' milestone, 1988 revolution was in fact born again spirits of 7 July students.

1988 revolution and stained blood were passed along 20 years now. But past is still haunting to those who committed massacre. So, what is the present situation in Burma now ? Burmese civilians did try their best whenever the circumstances favored. Then military regime has repeatedly tortured and killed whomever against them. Many families were broken and destroyed under this oppression. Mothers are crying. Sons are dying. Political prisoner are lying in the darkness. Political crisis makes ever-deepening social crisis and in turn it causing political unrest again. Moreover, Nagis cyclone pushes Burma to the edge of worst. Everything seems hopeless and unimaginable what would happen to worrisome and desperate 50 million souls. Will it be another revolution? Will it be another cyclone to make sufferer? Will it be another earthquake to punish dictator? Will it be any betterment? Will it be even worse? One thing for sure is present is daunting.

( 7 July memorial)


All of Burma Is a Prison

by Min Zin
Posted June 29, 2008

Much has been written about Cyclone Nargis and the failure of Burma’s military junta to respond adequately. But what of the hundreds of political prisoners held in Burma, many in areas devastated by the storm? When Cyclone Nargis ravaged Burma in the late night hours of May 2, it did not spare political prisoners. The notorious Insein prison, where hundreds of political prisoners (including my brother) are locked up, was one of the hardest hit places in Rangoon.

Why is my brother in Insein? On Feb. 15, the military raided the offices of the Myanmar Nation and took my brother, the weekly journal’s editor in chief, to jail. His crime? Possession of a U.N. report on the military’s brutal crackdown on last September’s demonstrations by monks and democracy activists—known around the world as the “Saffron Revolution.”

My brother’s name is Thet Zin, and he is one of hundreds of Burmese citizens who struggle to tell the truth about what is happening in their country—whether through traditional forms of journalism or through the Internet—under threat of arrest or worse by the military regime. Along with my brother, his office manager, Sein Win Maung, was also arrested.

When Cyclone Nargis hit, it uprooted trees; rain flooded the prison cells and the power was cut. A fire broke out in one of the prison wards, filling the prison with smoke. The flames triggered a riot. The guards started shooting.

Suffering from asthma, my brother was choking with smoke. His former office manager and fellow inmate, Sein Win Maung, passed out. Some sympathetic prison guards rushed to the cells and managed to push aside fallen trees and move the political prisoners to a prison hospital.

“Many political prisoners in the cells could have died from smoke if the rescue was delayed one more hour,” said Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner who now works with Thailand-based Assistant Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma).

It is still hard to know how many died or were injured during the havoc. But according to AAPP at least 36 prisoners at Insein were shot to death when the cylcone hit. Some prisoners, like many of their countrymen, lost their entire family to the cyclone. Thiha Thet Zin, a political prisoner in Insein, was informed that eight out of nine of his family members—including his son, his parents, his grandmother, and all his siblings—were swept away by the storm. His wife was the only survivor.

This is hell on earth. Still, Insein prison and the injustices that take place there are but a microcosm of what’s taking place throughout Burma. To paraphrase Shakespeare, all of Burma is a prison.

Cyclone Nargis claimed more than 138,000 lives and left millions homeless. Still, the junta denied millions of Burmese people the basic right to food by blocking foreign aid workers and supplies in the weeks immediately following the storm.

Indeed, the misuse of international aid is by now well documented. Aid supplies ended up in military warehouses, local markets and the homes of police officers and members of pro-government civilian groups instead of reaching starving and disease-stricken survivors. Soldiers even looted jewelries from dead bodies.

Moreover, the junta forced survivors to take part in the reconstruction of military sites and conscripted male orphans into the army, which before the storm was already notorious for its tens of thousands of child soldiers. All of these reports have been confirmed by sources both inside and outside Burma.

Clearly, the junta’s inability and unwillingness to care for the Burmese people is tantamount to “crimes against humanity.” Cyclone Nargis has exposed the failures of the regime and brought forth a defining moment in Burmese history with inevitable, if yet unpredictable, political consequences.

“Things will not return to status quo ante,” says Priscilla Clapp, a U.S. diplomat who served as Chief of Mission in Burma from 1999-2002. Post-cyclone Burmese politics will be a humanitarian politics—pressuring and arguing about mobilizing aid and its delivery. Political goals will be set aside at least for the medium-term, and more consideration will be given to humanitarian works.

The junta continues to ensure that the cyclone will not have an effect on its “Road Map to discipline flourishing democracy.” But there are pressures within the junta itself that could eventually lead to change. “We have heard that there are considerable tensions within the military,” said David Steinberg, a Burma expert from Georgetown University. “But I don’t know whether the tension is strong enough to split the military and at what level it exists, and whether it is at a high enough level to threaten present leadership.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has approved millions in aid for Burma and now has hundreds of aid workers from member countries in storm-stricken areas. This could serve to expose to the outside world the prison state that is Burma. Still, despite a visit last month by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the demands of dozens of heads of state, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of Burma’s opposition Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest—long after the May 24 deadline for her release.

What’s most important here is to assure the aid money is not used by the junta to retrench and tighten its grip on the Burmese people. Foreign aid runs the risk of being a “jackpot for the military junta, who will be the sole beneficiary of the international donation in the name of the cyclone victims” says Aung Din, a former political prisoner and director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

The outside world must demand more transparency and accountability when it comes to aid money and how it is distributed. So long as the world allows itself to be co-opted and outfoxed by the junta, political prisoners—including Aung San Suu Kyi and those in cyclone-ravaged Insein prison—will continue to languish in Burma’s gulags, and the Burmese people will remain shackled.

Min Zin is a Burmese journalist in exile.


Myanmar politics roiled, but junta's grip remains strong

Published: 07.03.2008
[Source -]

BANGKOK, Thailand - The cyclone that devastated Myanmar's heartland has also roiled a political landscape dominated by the military for more than four decades.

Buddhist monks are regrouping after the battering they took nine months ago, civil society groups are emerging and foreign aid workers — often agents of political change in the wake of humanitarian crises — are present in unprecedented numbers.

The junta's grip on power remains absolute. But anger against the regime has probably never run so high.
"Perhaps incremental change will emerge from engagement on humanitarian problems," said Joel Charny, vice president of U.S.-based Refugees International who visited Myanmar just before the cyclone struck.

People were already incensed by the brutal suppression last September of anti-government demonstrators, including the country's revered, saffron-robed Buddhist monks.

Then came Cyclone Nargis, exposing the junta as inept and heartless, initially blocking international aid efforts and even now still hampering them.

"The people are blaming the government. They are responsible for many deaths. They don't care about right or wrong and they let people die just to hold onto power," said Aung Myoe, a 32-year-old driver in a comment typical of the mood in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.

"In the `Saffron Revolution' they lost their Buddhist legitimacy; with the cyclone they lost whatever concept of efficacy they had with the public," said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at Georgetown.

Steinberg said the junta constantly trumpet achievements in modernizing the isolated and impoverished Southeast Asian nation formerly named Burma.

Analysts say these passions and emerging trends may in the longer term loosen the junta's grip on power. But for now it's business as usual: dissidents are arrested, a brutal campaign against ethnic minorities rages on and the military strides toward elections guaranteed to perpetuate its control.

But the 500,000-strong Buddhist monkhood, the only viable national institution after the army, is regaining strength and cohesion by assuming a leading role in helping cyclone survivors.

Their work is seconded by quietly burgeoning civil society groups, which Steinberg said could foster pluralism and democracy in the future. These groups include professional guilds, including those of actors and singers, charity organizations and loose associations of like-minded citizens.

So could the influx of foreign aid workers and agencies in what may be the most intense interaction Myanmar has experienced with the outside world since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1948.

The operative word is "incremental." Analysts don't foresee meaningful political changes in the short run, discounting a dramatic turn of events, such as social upheaval in face of cyclone-induced rice shortages, or a split within the military.
The regime will be hard-pressed to provide enough rice to keep its 400,000 troops and their families loyal and ensure that shortages, which could last several years, don't trigger major popular unrest as they have in the past, said Donald Seekins, a Myanmar watcher at Japan's Meio University.

Meanwhile, the junta marches forward along its so-called "road map to democracy." Elections are scheduled in 2010, based on a referendum-approved Constitution which guarantees the military 25 percent of parliamentary seats and power to run the country in event of a national emergency.

The cyclone response, the referendum and the extension of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's detention for a sixth year all sparked international outcry, but the absence of U.N. or other foreign action reassured the junta it needn't fear outside intervention.

"The people of Myanmar would have been happy if the United States or France invaded," said Ye Htun, a 30-year-old English teacher. "In Myanmar, the government is too strong and people are too scared. We can't do it alone."

Denis Gray, AP bureau chief in Bangkok, has covered Myanmar since the mid-1970s.


Frustrated Burmese Organize Aid Forays

22 June 2008

Ad Hoc Groups Formed In Cyclone's Aftermath, But Causes May Widen

Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 21, 2008; A01

RANGOON -- Seven weeks after huge swaths of Burma were savaged by a cyclone and tidal wave, a new and remarkable citizen movement is delivering emergency supplies to survivors neglected by the military government's haphazard relief effort.

The scores of ad hoc Burmese groups, many of them based here in the country's largest city, are not overtly political. But they are reviving a kind of social activism that has been largely repressed by successive military rulers here.

Defying roadblocks and bureaucratic obstruction, volunteers have reached devastated villages in many parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, dropping off food, drinking water and other essentials and bringing back photos that contradict claims in the state media that life is returning to normal.

Some members of the groups say they hope to keep working together when the cyclone damage is finally repaired and turn toward other activities that carry shades of political activism in this tightly controlled state.

With residents' frustration over the official relief effort mounting, pledges of support and donations to the National League for Democracy, the main opposition group in Burma, also called Myanmar, have doubled since the cyclone, according to a student leader of the league.

The storm, which came ashore on the night of May 2-3, killed an estimated 134,000 people and created severe hardship for 2.4 million more. The country's deeply xenophobic junta turned aside many offers of foreign help, agreeing to let in substantial numbers of international aid workers only after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon flew to the country May 22 with a personal appeal.

By then, however, homegrown groups were already mobilized, working to offset the tragic shortcomings of the government operation.

Down a street lined with gold and ruby merchants, where dealers charm clients over tiny tables set with tea and chess, employees in the back room of a gem shop one recent morning were swapping evidence: photos of rotten government food handouts.

A week earlier, people in the shops said, more than a dozen local jewelers had loaded 100 bags of rice, 20 bags of beans, tarpaulins and blankets onto a truck donated by a supplier and set off at midnight for the storm-ravaged town of Labutta.

They returned with photos of homeless villagers lining up for tins of food at a makeshift camp, a tear-stained boy who, they said, had lost his entire family to the storm's fierce tidal surge, and rotten rice -- yellow, fist-size chunks of it, piled like rocks in bags donated by the government-affiliated Myanmar Red Cross.

"When I saw what they were being fed, I was shaking I was so angry," said a shop assistant, 26, narrating each photo as she passed it to a customer.

The informal organizations are often based on occupation. Artists, doctors, students and the gem dealers have formed separate groups. In other cases, the groups are made up of friends coming together to help.

A 27-year-old lawyer trainee said he and five friends were furious when they tried to distribute supplies around the ruined town of Bogalay about a week after the cyclone but were turned away by local authorities who told them they needed a permit.

"They say they are giving these things to the people, but we know they aren't," he said, pointing at a photo in the state daily newspaper, the Mirror, that showed a relief camp with neat rows of tents and tables laden with food. "We know not to believe them."

In the weeks immediately after the cyclone, a doctor recounted, he closed his private medical clinic for twice-weekly trips to the delta with others. There, they noticed local officials shooing away desperate children, many of them orphaned or suffering storm-related trauma.

So the doctors, four of whom are pediatricians, tried to entertain the children to keep their minds occupied. They held a sanitation workshop after noticing that there were no visible efforts to instruct people in basic hygiene.

"The Ministry of Health is trying, but they're not effective, not organized," the physician said.

Like many other residents, the doctor can't afford to take many more days off work, but he still meets with the group every week. He said he hopes to translate the momentum of its cyclone relief work into other efforts, operating under cover of medicine.

"I'm not political; I'm a community-based activist," the doctor said, when asked how his group could keep working and turn from cyclone relief to other activities, such as organizing debates on health care.

"Now we're seeing the time of civil society. Now thousands of small groups are helping any way they can," said a magazine editor, who pooled funds with other journalists and artists in the hope of purchasing 1,000 shortwave radios so delta survivors could receive uncensored foreign news broadcasts. In the end, the group could afford only 50 but managed to distribute them in villages.

The back page of the Mirror and the New Light of Myanmar daily tells readers that "everybody may make donations freely . . . to any person or any area." But nearly a dozen people interviewed offered firsthand or secondhand tales of confiscation or obstruction by local authorities.

A surgeon said he and his group of medical and psychology students were prevented from handing out food at a monastery near the town of Dedaye to about 1,000 refugees who had been sheltering inside. A general there wanted to be seen to hand out the food first, the surgeon said.

A lawyer said he had set out on a relief trip to the delta town of Kyunpangong with five friends, but every box of goods they brought was opened and searched in front of them.

"If I had the chance, I'd occupy the whole delta and put up a sign to the authorities that reads 'Don't come here,' " said a Rangoon monk who is active in medical work. "So many people are waiting to get aid from the government, but they're having to rely instead on private donors."

In five relief expeditions to the delta or ravaged areas around Rangoon, he said, he saw military troops and police patrolling roads or monitoring checkpoints but not once helping survivors.

Since the cyclone, three people have been arrested on charges of taking photographs of the cyclone-ravaged areas and sending them to foreign news sites, and one person for marching to the offices of the U.N. Development Program to complain about government neglect, according to a lawyer monitoring their cases.

Though some private groups are keeping up their relief efforts, others are running out of steam -- and money.

Under monsoon skies one recent afternoon, porters loaded a boat berthed in Rangoon with rattan baskets of cloth, children's pajamas and bags of rice. It was sailing to the delta under the auspices of a prominent Buddhist abbot. On its previous trip, the owners had offered the boat for free. This time, said a monk directing the loading, the owner was charging.

Nearby, in a single-room apartment, 16 current and former university students crowded around a surgeon who was writing notes on a blackboard in preparation for another crack-of-dawn trip to the delta.

Later the surgeon remarked: "I think the government made a huge mistake. If they were seen to care, people would have forgiven them for the past 20 years."


Firsthand tale of Burma relief frustrations

Tyche Hendricks, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

Richard Jacquot describes the cyclone that hit Burma on M... Richard Jacquot points to a place near the township of La...

(06-19) 18:10 PDT -- Nearly two months after Cyclone Nargis slammed into Burma's Irrawaddy Delta, humanitarian relief groups are still struggling to get government permission to deliver life-saving aid to 2 million survivors, said Richard Jacquot, a San Francisco resident and emergency program manager for Mercy Corps.

In a conversation with The Chronicle, Jacquot, who returned Sunday from a month in Burma, detailed the enormous frustrations and the modest triumphs of helping cyclone victims recover under the watchful eye of an authoritarian regime.

Although Burma's military leaders promised U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a month ago that they would admit aid workers of all nationalities, they continue to restrict aid delivery, he said.

The French-born Jacquot has spent 24 years working in some of the hardest-hit war zones and disaster areas on the planet - from Sarajevo to Sudan and Congo to the Kurdish area of Iraq. He managed Hurricane Katrina recovery for Mercy Corps, an Oregon aid agency working in three dozen countries. Trained in international relations and economic development, Jacquot has worked for several humanitarian organizations coordinating emergency food, shelter, water, sanitation and health care.

The risks of providing aid in the midst of a war are manageable compared to the obstacles he confronted trying to deliver aid in Burma, said Jacquot, 58.

"You have to make contact with all the groups ... it's dangerous but you know the players," he said of his experiences in battle zones.

By contrast, in Burma, renamed Myanmar by the governing junta, "there's no rhyme or reason. You don't know why you can go here today and tomorrow you can't," said Jacquot. "It's the way an authoritarian regime works: It puts you off balance. That's the way it controls its population."

Jacquot spent a month in Rangoon, coordinating with colleagues in the delta town of Laputta over government-issued cell phones. He was not permitted to leave the city and they were unable to travel out of the delta. Satellite phones and Internet access was blocked by the government.

Mercy Corps has only been able to operate in Burma because it affiliated itself with a British medical aid group, Merlin, which had already been working in Burma and had a memorandum of understanding with the government to equip health centers in the Irrawaddy Delta. Like other aid groups, Mercy Corps and Merlin have relied heavily on Burmese staff and associates who have been able to move more freely.

The greatest frustration, said Jacquot, was watching millions of dollars worth of aid and hundreds of skilled relief workers stay bottled up in Rangoon while hundreds of thousands of survivors subsist on almost nothing after the May 3 storm, which took an estimated 134,000 lives.

"Imagine Katrina: it was already a pretty difficult challenge for the U.S. to handle," he said. "Now imagine the government has shut the area completely. No one is allowed inside and no aid is allowed to get in. The result is a population that needs assistance and cannot get it."

Mercy Corps and Merlin managed to install three large barges loaded with supplies on rivers in the delta, then used smaller boats to ferry food, plastic sheeting and other materials from the barges to the villages.

Jacquot's team has employed Burmese health workers to serve the remote communities along the rivers and hired local people to drain salt water and clear corpses out of rainwater reservoirs and prepare them to catch the monsoon rains again for drinking water.

Jacquot said he was moved by the ingenuity and initiative of Burmese people in reaching out to their countrymen in spite of government-erected obstacles.

"One of the side effects of a controlling government is that it triggers human creativity," he said. "What is extraordinary there is the response by local organizations. We have to admire them because they are taking a lot of risk."

The United Nations, along with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Burmese government, is conducting a comprehensive disaster assessment to be complete next month. Early reports indicate that a feared wave of disease and death has not materialized. But that doesn't mean that all is well in the Irrawaddy Delta, where families still huddle in shelters with their livestock and scrounge for food and fresh water, said Jacquot.

"The fact that there isn't secondary death doesn't mean they are not suffering," he said. "You hear people say, 'It's amazing how resilient they are.' But what choice do they have?"

Meanwhile, aid workers like Jacquot debate how best to proceed in the face of continuing government resistance to foreign aid.

"Some say providing a little bit of help is better than no help at all, others say we should challenge the government further," said Jacquot, now back in his San Francisco living room. "I don't know the answer but it's a dilemma everybody has to deal with."


Plight of Burmese people

20 June 2008

Gone with the wind,
Countless numbers of lives.

Numb with tears,
This undescribable feeling of pain.

Faced with fear,
The possibility of lost future.

Grappling with darkness,
A chance to see a glimpse of light at the end.


In Hard Times, Pawnshops Thrive

By Aung Thet Wine/ Rangoon
[Source - Irrawaddy]

A 13-year-old student wearing a school blouse and a faded green longyi shyly approached the owner of the Yadana Pawnshop on Moe Kaung Street in eastern Dagon Myothit.

Pale and very thin, the girl slowly removed a packet from her ragged school bag and handed it to the woman pawnbroker, who unfolded a tattered, faded, longyi. She inspected it carefully, before speaking.

"300 kyat [0.40 cents]," she said. The girl’s eyes turned sad.

"Aunty, please give me 500 kyat,” she said. “Today I have to pay school fees."

The pawnbroker looked at the girl and then silently began folding the longyi. Finished, she carefully wrote out a receipt.

Through a small window, she handed the student 500 kyat and a crisp, white receipt.

The girl smiled. She put the kyat and receipt into her school bag and walked outside into the rain. She could remain in school for one more term.

The men and women waiting in the pawnshop had watched the exchange with sympathy. They were also customers with hopes of getting a few kyat to meet their immediate needs. Some needed bus fare to get to work; some needed money for rice; some needed medicine.

Many people in Burma go to pawnbrokers each day now carrying clothes or cooking utensils to pawn for enough money to get through the day. They are mostly day laborers who are paid small salaries at each day’s end. Some would return that evening to buy back whatever they pawned in the morning, only to return in a few days’ time to pawn the object again.

"After Cyclone Nargis, the most pawned items are clothes and cooking utensils,” said a pawnshop owner in Hlaing Tharyar Township. “Mostly women’s longyi and cooking pots. Most people who pawn things are daily wage earners with low living standards or civil servants in low ranks." "

“Every morning, I have to find money for bus fares," a mason from Ward 21 in Hlaing Tharyar Township told The Irrawaddy. He was working regularly at a construction site in downtown Rangoon and had to commute to work.

A pawnbroker with a shop near Insein Market, said: "When the houses collapsed in the cyclone and a lot of people lost their jobs, they turned to the pawnshops. I had roughly 60 to 100 customers before, but now about 200 to 300 people come regularly.”

A civil servant at the Defense Textile Mill said, "Twelve days after I’m paid the money runs out, and then I have to run to the pawnshop for daily food.”

Pawnshops are among the most successful businesses in Rangoon, according to an official at the Yangon Municipal Committee. He said Rangoon had 137 registered pawnshops in 2000-2001; 169 in 2001-2002; 162 from 2002-2004; 189 in 2004-2005; 214 in 2005-2006; 250 in 2006-2007; and 256 pawnshops in 2008.

A pawnshop owner must bid for a registration license. Owners say the winners are those who pay the largest bribes.

"The license fee is 5 million kyat [about US $4,237] and the bribe is 2 million kyat [$1,695], so totally it costs about 7 million kyat [$5,929] for a license," said a pawnbroker in Hlaing Tharyar Township.

The license fee varies in each township, rising to around 8 million kyat [$6,776] for a downtown township location, according to owners.

Pawnshop owners say you need about 200 million kyat [$169,500] to start a top-line pawnshop, which essentially functions as a small loan business. Many unlicensed pawnshops are springing up, they say, drawing many regular customers away from registered pawnshops.

But for now—with the Burmese economy reeling from the cyclone’s impact and more people out of work—pawnshops everywhere are thriving with customers trying to get through one more day in a life of unrelieved hardship.


The Imprisoned Voice of Freedom

By Kyaw Zwa Moe
[Source - Irrawaddy]

Everyone knows where Aung San Suu Kyi is spending her 63rd birthday today. But as millions of her supporters around the world mark the occasion, no one can say when she will be released from the family home that has been her prison for most of the past 19 years.

I still remember a conversation I had with Suu Kyi in late 1999, during one of her brief interludes of freedom. We met at the Rangoon headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Two youth members of the NLD were also there. We discussed politics and our experiences as political prisoners, as well as our plans for our future education.

I can clearly recall her sobering advice at that time: that we should be prepared for a “lifelong struggle” to restore democracy to Burma.

It already feels like a lifetime has passed since then.

A few months after I met her, she was put under house arrest again. Today, almost a decade later, she is still in detention. She has been a prisoner for nearly 13 of the past 19 years.

On May 27, five years after she was taken into custody following the infamous Depayin massacre that left many of her followers dead, her detention was extended again.

When she will be released is as uncertain as the future of Burma itself. After 46 years of iron-fisted military rule, Burma seems to be perpetually on the verge of collapse. No one knows when the next crisis will strike. But one thing seems certain: The fate of Burma and its most famous prisoner of conscience are inextricably intertwined.

For the moment, the junta still holds the reins. And that means that Suu Kyi will probably not see freedom before 2010, when the regime plans to hold an election that it has no intention of losing. By that time, she will be 65 years old—twenty years older than she was when her party delivered the junta a humiliating defeat in the country’s last general election.

The regime never honored the results of the 1990 election, but it is expected to welcome the outcome of the 2010 vote. As in the constitutional referendum held in May, the junta’s victory is guaranteed.

The draft constitution, which was supposedly supported by 92 percent of the population, sets aside 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military appointees. It is also highly likely that the regime will form a political party and field candidates with strong military backing.

If the junta can achieve its goal of rewriting history—erasing the two decades that it has ruled as a reviled and illegitimate regime and starting afresh with an electoral and constitutional mandate, however dubious—it may see fit to release Suu Kyi.

But this is far from certain. The regime knows from past experience that Suu Kyi’s influence is not easily eclipsed.

When she was released from her first six-year period of house arrest in 1995, crowds flocked to her home each Saturday to hear her speak. Her talks on political subjects threatened to revive the people’s democratic aspirations, and so she was once again removed from the public eye.

In 2002, Suu Kyi was released again. Sure enough, her magnetism proved to be undiminished. Her travels around the country attracted immense attention.

Desperate to contain her popular appeal, the regime masterminded an attack on her motorcade in Depayin, Sagaing Division, on May 30, 2003. She survived the carefully orchestrated assault, but many of her supporters did not.

Even after the regime had shown the extent to which it was willing to go to remove her from Burma’s political equation, Suu Kyi remained firmly committed to dialogue.

In an article written several years later, Razali Ismail, the former United Nations envoy to Burma, recounted a conversation he had with Suu Kyi a few days after the Depayin incident: “She said that she was prepared to turn the page for the sake of the people and reconciliation, saying she was still prepared to talk to the government.”

It is almost bizarre, in light of such evidence of Suu Kyi’s willingness to forgive the regime for the many indignities that it has inflicted upon her over the past two decades, to listen to charges that she has been inflexible in her dealings with the ruling generals.

There are even some who ask if her unwavering principles, determination and courage have become political liabilities for Burma. They seem to imply that the country would be better off with an opposition leader who didn’t make the regime look so nasty and brutish by contrast.

Many of Suu Kyi’s supporters have commented that she has the power to bring out the best in people. Is it possible that she also brings out the worst in her opponents? But it seems almost grotesquely unfair to suggest that she’s to blame for the junta’s poor public image.

What makes Suu Kyi so appealing to many, and so appalling to some, is that she speaks the simple truth. She disarms people with her candor. But the generals know that lies are all they have, so they continue to attack her.

Not everyone who criticizes Suu Kyi is attacking her. But what some of her critics have in common with the regime is that they tend to ignore the facts in favor of a view which suggests that Burma is a permanent basket case, with or without military rule.

Some say that Suu Kyi’s Burman ethnicity, which she shares with most of the ruling generals, makes her equally unfit to rule a country as ethnically diverse as Burma. She herself has never shied away from the complex issue of ethnic politics. Indeed, she has always been clear that talks with the regime should include representatives of Burma’s many ethnic minorities.

Suu Kyi has never spoken of the ethnic issue as if it were a secondary matter, although her energies have always been directed primarily at restoring democracy. Far from treating the ethnic issue as unimportant, she has always envisioned democracy as a means of addressing the legitimate aspirations of various ethnic groups.

In this, she is worlds apart from both the junta and many so-called “Burma experts.” While the regime believes that force is the only way to hold the country together, some academics argue that the country is doomed to fall apart. Suu Kyi rejects both militarism and pessimism as political dead ends.

Is Suu Kyi guilty, then, of unfounded optimism about the future of Burma? Not at all.

In 1990, the NLD won over 80 percent of the seats in parliament. Even more significantly, the party’s support was strong not only in Burman-dominated cities such as Rangoon and Mandalay, but also in ethnic states.

In eastern Karen State, the NLD won 71 percent of seats; in northern Kachin State, it took 73 percent. Southeastern Mon State gave the party 80 percent support. In Shan State, the NLD won over 39 percent, while in Karenni State it won 50 percent. In western Arakan and Chin states, it won over 34 and 30 percent, respectively.

What does this prove? That Burma’s people, regardless of ethnicity, want democracy and see it as a means of improving their lives. That was true in 1990, and it is true today.

But Suu Kyi’s appeal has never been based on false promises, so the people of Burma also know that even if they get what they want most—freedom from a brutal dictatorship—there will still be challenges ahead.

Nearly a decade ago, Suu Kyi warned me that the road ahead would not be easy. Perhaps it wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time. But now her words ring truer than ever, even though the voice that spoke them has been silenced—for how long, nobody knows.


More local aid workers arrested

Source: Irrawaddy

Recently, a local volunteer group made headlines when they started collecting the bodies of the Cyclone Nargis victims and gave them a decent burial in a plot of land they had purchased for this purpose. On 14th June, 7 of these volunteers were detained by the government. Out of these 7, 5 of them belong to a group called All Burma Federation of Students' Union (ABFSU).

Those detained include the Myanmar Tribune publishers U Aung Kyaw San and Dr Nay Win as well as ABSU leaders Ko Lin Htet Naing, Ma Hnin Pwint Wai, and Ko Hein Yazar Tun.

One aid worker told Irrawaddy: "They were detained at a checkpoint on our return trip from Bogale to Pyapon. We heard that the detainees were transferred to Yangon. There were about 16 people in the truck but the driver and some other people were allowed to go home."

For security reasons, ABFSU members have been in hiding since September's Saffron Revolution. However, they have been actively involved relief work since Cyclone Nargis hit the Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in early May.

Since the beginning of June, junta has detained over 20 prominent aid workers without any valid reasons. Those under detention include comedian Zarganar and Sports Editor Zaw Thet Htwe.

A spokesman from ABFSU told Irrawaddy,
"(The Junta is angry for several reasons.) For one, they are not getting as much funds as they want from the International Community. Secondly, news continue to leak out even though they are trying hard to control the media. The fact that private aid workers are getting things done while they cant, it is making them lose face. So of course, they take it out on the local aid workers."

Original article:


Detention of private aid workers

16 June 2008

Sources: Myo Chit Myanmar & Irrawaddy

One of the most active private donor groups have stopped distributing aid after two of its leaders were detained. The group, led by comedian-philanthropist Zarganar and Sports Editor Zaw Thet Htwe, said they will stop distributing aid for the time being.

Meanwhile, three other private aid workers were detained last thursday when they went to a pre-arranged meeting with a monk who had asked for donation items. A family member said the authorities searched the houses of one of the detainees and asked the family to produce receipts and other documents related to aid work.

The reason for detention remains unclear.

Reference Articles:


Time to ask Ourselves

14 June 2008

The latest news at Mizzima titled "Journalist helping cyclone victims arrested" says:

The crackdown by the Burmese military junta continues unabated, It arrested a journalist, who has been helping Cyclone Nargis victims in Irrawaddy delta this morning, according to sources.

Zaw Thet Htwe, the former Editor-in Chief of First Eleven Sports journal was arrested by the Special Branch of the police this morning.
Another news from Mizzima titled "Junta shuts down pro-opposition monastery" says:
The Burmese military junta authorities sealed a pro-opposition Buddhist monastery in Rangoon yesterday.

The township chairman and security forces arrived at the Sasana Theikpan monastery compound of Chauk Htut Gyi pagoda, Bahan Township on Friday morning and told monks they would close the monastery until an official announcement by the new head of monastery was made.
A few days ago, I read Irrawaddy's interview with a popular Burmese comedian, Zarganar. A couple of days later, I read another news about him being detained for questioning without any valid explanation.

Ban-Ki Moon has come and gone. Than Shwe has fulfilled a tiny fraction of his promise to Ban-Ki Moon by minutely increasing the number of visas issued to aid workers.

US and French warships have returned to their respective countries. Many people expressed disbelief and disappointment at the junta's refusal of aid from those warships. Words of condemnation and even pleas failed to reach out to Than Shwe.

A group of good Samaritans bought a plot of land out of their own money and selflessly went through the sites to find the decomposed bodies and buried them. [Source - Moetheezun's blog]

Other individuals pull together whatever resources they can find to help the cyclone victims. Whenever they talk to the victims, the same stories surface. No visible aid has come from SPDC and the meager rations handed out by the SPDC can hardly sustain for the survival of the victims. Many victims still live in precarious conditions making them vulnerable to contracting diseases and dying from malnutrition. Sometimes, the victims are even subjected to abuse by SPDC's lackeys for not following orders.

After reading all those news in the media depicting the current situations of Burma, I was prostrate with frustration and sadness. Though there is currently no immediate evidence of casualty tantamount to a genocide, waves after waves of repressions by Junta over many decades (since Ne Win took over the power in Burma) have undeniably caused a series of damages equivalent to such.

With more natural disasters and problems happening in the world, the plight of Burmese people may soon be forgotten by many people. Such is an inevitable truth. Hence, I sincerely hope that everyone will see how we need to do whatever we can within our own means to bring the light to the people of Burma. There must come a day when Burma will be known for its natural beauty and mesmerizing culture rather than the devastating and frustrating news like what is happening now.

It is time to ask ourselves .....
What can we do to free Burma?
How will we do what we can do for Burma?
How effective are our actions for Burma?
Until when will we do what we can do for Burma?

And most importantly, we must remember that everyone has a role to play. No matter how tiny it might be.


The real reason behind visa delays

08 June 2008

Source: MMEd Watch

MMEDWatch reported that embassies have been instructed by higher authorities to limit the number of visas issued per week. Sources told MMEDWatch that there were no hard and fast rules on who is allowed entry. For instance, a volunteer was denied visa while an analyst (who supposedly poses more of a threat to Junta) was granted visa.

For the original article in Burmese, please click here.


Homeless cyclone survivors now face monsoon

Published Date: 08 June 2008
By Pat Wilde
[Source - ScotlandonSunday]

A SEVERE shortage of housing has left hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in Burma exposed to heavy rains as the monsoon season begins.

The United Nations and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned there was an "urgent need" for tarpaulins to provide the estimated 1.5 million homeless survivors with temporary shelter. Otherwise, they warned, the threat of hunger and disease could intensify.

"Exposure to the elements five weeks after a disaster of this magnitude has to be a major concern," said John Sparrow, a spokesman for the IFRC. "People are in a weakened condition. They are sick, they are hungry. Without shelter, their whole situation is seriously exacerbated."

The UN estimates a total of 2.4 million people were affected when Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2 to 3, and warns that more than one million of those still need help, mostly in the hard-to-reach Irrawaddy delta.

UN officials and aid groups have criticised the regime for hindering access to the delta, saying it has prevented enough food, water and shelter from reaching desperate survivors.

The top UN humanitarian official said in New York there were now "relatively few people" who have not received any sort of help, but "this aid effort needs to be stepped up further".

"I think people are getting to all the main places, although it's not always as easy as it should be," John Holmes said. "There's no evidence of starvation at the moment, although, as I say, many people are still in significant need of aid."

The UN has said access could be greatly improved if the country's military junta would accept American offers of support, which include the use of 22 military helicopters.

The USS Essex group, which includes four ships, 5,000 US military personnel and the helicopters, on Thursday abandoned plans to deliver aid to the delta after repeated efforts to broker a compromise with the junta failed.

The US military, however, said it was keeping 22 helicopters on standby in case Burma's ruling junta reverses its rejection of such help for cyclone victims, saying the aircraft could reach survivors within three days.

With only seven Burmese government helicopters reportedly flying, relief supplies are mostly being transported along dirt roads and then by boat. International aid agencies say boats able to navigate the delta's canals are scarce and efforts to import vehicles have been hampered by government red tape.

"Of the 1 million or 1.5 million people in need of relief support, we think that between 450,000 and 750,000 are in emergency need," said Lt Gen John Goodman, commander of Marine Forces Pacific and head of the US relief operation for Burma.

They could be reached "over the course of a three-day period" by American helicopters and landing craft, he said in a telephone interview from a temporary US staging area at Utapao, Thailand.

Goodman said the junta was "still considering" the offer, which would include allowing Burma officials aboard all US helicopters to monitor their routes and to unload relief.

The military leaders are particularly reluctant to allow US helicopters into the delta, given that Washington has been a leading critic of the junta for its poor human rights record and refusal to hand power to a democratically elected government.


Those who suffer and Those who enjoy by Nagis Cyclone

06 June 2008

When I read this blog post written by one fellow Burmese, living inside the troubled country, deeply touched and I feel exactly what s/he does. And I started to type and translate to English as s/he requested .

It's really nice to stay here !!

Everything is just perfect..

Nothing was difficult to do aid work...

Such a good generator ! bring it back to army bar....

have to rebuild with whatever we have...

This is school open day ! Which school we have to go then...

No idea what to do !

Nothing but space to sleep

Surviving with makeshift shelter, where is the foreign aid - tent ...

Those who suffer and Those who enjoy by Nagis Cyclone

(I would be much appreciate if anyone could translate and share this post around the internet and spread the words)

Please look these photos thoroughly! You can see who is enjoying the things and stuffs came along with international aid agencies. Earlier, they ( Army staffs and its followers) tried to smuggle these out. Then, when it exposed to the public and not easy to do so, they just keep for themselves and benefited. How they are doing relief and aid works? He is with iron folded uniform and sit back and relax, watching TV, inside the safe and warm shelter of donated new tent. They don't even have such a chance to rest in their military bar.

How dare they ask victims to wash their cloths and get water for them? They think victims are coming around to serve them and beg for. There are hundreds of tents but not for cyclone victims. However, if high rank officials and international agencies come down to see camps, they quickly manage to push in the selected victims inside the tent and force them to witness what they taught. Who can argue seeing these photos?

Everything is happening different with what international expected. The fact is that these aid and donated stuffs are really useful for them. It seems exactly like army was provided by international aid. Herewith we revealed to the international community representing the genuine cyclone victims. They could hardly manage for the space to sleep in. Even so, authorities evict them within three days.

That's why.. Let me say it out. We just try to accept that it's OK even if victims receive 10 pieces out of 100 donated by international community. But in reality, nothing was handed to victims. So, Please don't send any more food and aid stuffs. It seems like things are provided to army exclusively. They will torture and oppress as long as they are provided with such a nice food and good materials. If you want to donate and support to the real victims, please try to find out the right channel to reach victims out.

( Remark by translator- There are many volunteer groups , reaching directly to the devastated area. Cyclone relief is one of them.)


Change We Believe In

05 June 2008

In recent days, I used to hear success stories and news of those I have been following.

Being a loyal fan of Red devils, the name given by media to Manchester United Footballers, I feel astonishingly terrific for winning two major trophies in 2007-2008 season: Premiership Trophy and Champions League Trophy. I had never missed a match of every Premiership soccer matches played by Man U in this season. During Champions League Final, I watched until 5am till the end of deadly penalty kick out and award presenting ceremony. I recalled I had to get up again at 8am to go to work with red and sleepy eyes. Man U Football Club is made up of many talented youth players and they deserve more victories in years to come.

The world renowned American Idol Programme was just over and the winner was David Cook whom my wife and I had been supporting. My favourite songs by David Cook were "Hello", pop song by Lionel Richie, "I don't wanna miss a thing", rock song by Aerosmith and "Hero", a duet song with runner-up David Archuleta. It is originally a soundtrack by Chad Kroeger from blockbuster Spiderman movie. Despite not winning American the Idol, Kristy Lee was the one who sang the song I like most, "God Bless USA", in this year programme. It is about a US civilian being proud of heroes who fight for human rights, freedom and Independence of America. While others are proud of their accomplishments, we Burmese are losing face in International Community because of our inhumane government.

Democrats and Republicans have finally come out with their candidates for upcoming US presidential election. John McCain, a 71 years old Vietnam War veteran, was emerged as the presidential candidate for Republican Party. Democrats' candidate, Barack Obama, an African American senator, is the one I admire and support in this general election. He defeated his rival, Hilary Clinton, the former first lady of US, after their tough battles for five consecutive months. It is very likely he may also overcome his opponent of Republican, John McCain, in the forthcoming presidential election in this year end. The phrase from his inspirational speech of 2004 election campaign exclaims, "There is no liberal America. There is no conservative America. There is only United States of America." The slogan of the election campaign led by Obama is "Change We Believe In". Certainly, Americans are ready for change to disastrous policies of Bush administration.

Being a faithful supporter of our national leader, Daw Aung San Su Kyi, I am eager to make ourselves ready for change to let her take a leadership role in Burmese Government. I sincerely hope and suppose we are going to see her victory against dictators soon before the end of 2008. Her supporters are not divided by fans of Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal. Her followers are not divided by admirers of David Cook, David Archuleta or Jason. Her devotees are not divided by supporters of McCain, Hilary or Obama. Apart from those who fear to lose power and suppress the people, all of us are supporting Daw Su exclusively for her bravery and love towards the people of Burma. Whatever it is, the only unchanged universal truth is the Change in this Changing World. Last but not least, the change we believe in is the change of Democratic Burma from the foolish tyranny.

Nyi Nyi (Thanlwin)


Zarganar detained (again)

Source: Myo Chit Myanmar

Comedian-cum-volunteer Zarganar was detained last night at 8pm. A group of about 10 special agents and Town Council members visited his home, and mounted a search for over 3 hours. At about 11pm, they took him away on the pretext of questioning, along with some items they found in his home.

Zarganar has been very active in distributing aid to the cylone survivors. He recently gave an interview with the BBC in which he dismissed Junta's claim of survivors being self-sufficient.

The agents reportedly told Zarganar's family not to inform any news agencies of his arrest, and that he would be released after questioning.

For the original article in Burmese, please click here.


Prayer sessions being held in Yangon

03 June 2008


This afternoon at about 1pm, a crowd of 1400 monks and about 500 people gathered at ShweNyarWah Monastery to hold a prayer session for the cyclone victims. After the session, they plan to take a pilgrimage around the city and chant prayers.

The monastery (and the participants) were surrounded by the army as the news was being reported.


Interview with Burmese famous comedian Zaganar

02 June 2008

This is the interview of Irrawaddy Online Magazine and Myanmar famous comedian” Zaganar

He was jailed many times in Myanmar prison of his political jokes and tortured by military government. Once he lost all his teeth because he was hit in the prison. Now he and some movie stars are helping cyclone refugees in delta area despite of military government’s disturbance. He is very true to Burma.

Q: Ok, let’s talk about from starting until now (31-5-08) what is going on there?

A: We are on the doing since May 7 till this morning. We‘ve been everywhere and every places expect of Ngapudaw, but our men have already reached there. And then we’ve been to other 42 villages where no one ever been there, which is in the Daedayae’ region, a group of three big villages of paddy warehouses and purchasing deports. And then we’ve been another group of three villages in Bogalay region, 42 villages. They haven’t get any aids,not only government’s but also UN’s and NGO’s.

Q: In there what are the things exactly you found out, how many peoples are died, what they’re needing,how big is the destroyed.

A:I can give you an example, there are a thousand homes in Mangae gyi region,700 homes are all disappeared,only about 300 homes, some have floor and some have pillers,221 died and more than 300 are still missing.

Until 22nd May, there are a lot of dead bodies in the creeks, the villagers got 7cans(about 7 cooking cups of rice given by government and a small packet of dried instant noodle, nothing more than that, that was 20 days after cyclone.

At 28th May, we went to the villages named Tin maung chaung, Kyain suu, Htate chaung gyi, Kan suu, Shwe bo suu from the Bogalay. Everyone there haven’t got any aids, nobody been there yet, no cloths on, all children are nicked.

There are altogether 542 families …they‘ve lose their houses .They stay at a place of small pagoda, named Ah Kyut Ah loot. This pagoda is broken by half. They all sleep there squeezed. There‘s no UN, no NGO, no aids. We’re the very first group, we gave them food and others as much as we could. The worse is they don’t have drinking water. The wells are full of bodies. So that they collect the raining water and drink. So we brought 10000 water bottles (20 lits per bottle)

Q: Haven’t they got the aids from government, given by international groups yet?

A: There are only at Lutpoottar and Bogalay, they have a few tents ,4 or 5 per tent , they can eat rice, but very a few tents .Those who are at villages got nothing.

Q: UN said, there are 25% of aids reached there. Is that right?

A: That’s right, definitely. The aids are reached to the villages a little only. There are still islands and villages. Nobody come and bring to a certain places, no transportation, only by small boat. There are lot survivors there.

I want to tell you a sad story. She is very old lady of 11 family members including her. All the other 10 died in cyclone, she is alone now. But she didn’t know they all gone. She even didn’t recognized herself. There are a lot people like that. They are going to be insane, this is a fishing village.

Q: How many more people like that and what are their condition overall?

A: There are three types of peoples; one is very angry and sensitive. They won’t listen anything , all the time they are angry and been rough. The second is kind of sober. They are crying all the time. And the next is a kind of mute , no talk, no movement.

We went and gave rice 10kg per person, beans, blanket and mosquito nets to everybody. They didn’t even take, they have no interested. They said they want to die.

Q: Did you ever see any government’s aids there?

A: No…not at all….just 7 cups of rice and a packet of Mama dried noodles as I said, that was 28th May, until we arrived there.

Q: How do you bring the things there? By small boats?
A: yeah…by small boats.

Q:Just like your group, as other self motivated donor, how much they can do within limitation?

A: At first we forced to let us go in to the places. We faced a bit difficulties against them, for example..They (authorities) asked me, “why you go without permission…you must report us…blur.. blur…”So we talked to them nicely and they said that “we don’t care if you’re in danger”. So I said “we don’t care even we die”
Something like that..

Later after an order out by National Disaster Prevention group, they don’t interfered so much then. “It is good to go the places of difficult transportation and self motivated group can donate as they wish “in that order.

After that order, the traders of the Chinatown and the gold smiths of the Mogol Street are doing some helps out. So the refugees can get more. If they can not go to the far places, we go for them. For example... Bogalay, the donors leave the things at city...We all (film stars) bring t the things o the villages. We have altogether 420 peoples in our groups. We separated to the small groups and go to the different places.

Q: that day in the New light of Myanmar newspaper, they said people can eat frogs and fishes and the delta in the next year will be full of golden paddy fields, It is that so?

A: Ha ..ha…the dream is so good…hee hee..i don’t know weather they can find frogs or fishes, we name the Irrawaddy river and Bogalay river water color is Nargis color, you know why?...the color is whitsh gray….there are many bodies of human, cows and buffalos …some more we call it Nargis flavor…extremely bad….after we come back..this smell follow us .No one can stand it…we all vomit…So who can find the frogs and fishes…better eat the bodies….

Q: how about the bodies? Haven’t they buried them?

A: They even never collected…still in the river. We come back from Bogalay at 28th May. We went to 5-villages. We even could not take photos and videos because too many bodies, at least 40 bodies after the villagers buried more than one thousand bodies. Some donors bring 80 pieces of burning machines and burned. They are from AZG and Christian Missionaries.

Q: How about the Karen tribes who stayed there? Are they most populated?
A: There are many Karen villages in Bogalay and Daydayae distrait, most of them are Christians, and I like them. When we arrived there they come and help us. They have been bringing back to Yangon and do the counseling for them. They will lead reconstructing of the villages.
Firstly they’ve got the construction materials and foods; secondly, today they were giving the vegetable seeds such as watercress, amaranth and Roselle, and then fertilizers which can be used at any type of soil. And they were taught how to use it.

Q: Do you think they can restart the cultivation?

A: Rice cannot…..only some kind of vegetables. They start today …the villagers were taught by the experts.

Q: I heard that they never get aids because they are Karen tribes, is that so?
A: Not only Karen but also Burmese.., nobody got aids. There are only 15 days left to do cultivation paddy fields .Now we discuss with big business companies and Thai technicians to buy the cultivating machines, called “golden buffalo” .It can be finished an acre within half day by using this machine.One machine costs 1.4 millions kyats(1000 US $).We start from ‘kyunn nyo gyi’ township as main region. There are 5514 peoples in this region, 3200 men are able to work .We tried to repair the soil with the help of a Thai technician. Now we can start to cultivate if we got the 18 machines. We have only 10, we still need 8 more machines.

Q: We heard that the health and rescue teams from the neibourhood countries are coming to this area. Did they arrived?

A: No I didn’t see any team, only a Thai woman to research the soil comes together with us. Yesterday she went back to Thai, and she would be right back on Saturday. We will know whether we can cultivate within 15 days or not.

Q: Is it any aids from the northern and upper Burma?

A: Yeah , lately many, for example many big container trucks from ‘Nammatee,Myitkyeenar,Lasho’ came with 200 tanks of cooking oils .They came together with Christian missionaries , altogether 10 container trucks, they are Shan tribes, we just met with them.

Q: how about Yangon?

A: we have to go there as well. This morning we went to the ‘Dala’,’Kunchan gone’,and ‘Nyaung wai ‘which is next river bank to ‘Kyee myin dai’.Ther are not as desperate as Delta. But they lost their homes. We help them too. They still ok (sound mind.)

Q: What you want to talk about foreign groups?

A: There are still many things which are beyond our control .The persons from foreign countries can help lot things such as to rebuild the destroyed villages as soon as possible. For example, at the time of Tsunami, the technicians are arrived and build the houses .We can’t afford it. We are not rich. We also heard that Bill Gate came out with some helps, we have no idea where the aids are going ended?

It won’t cost to build a small house. We hope the internationals come and build for the villages.

We dissatisfied UN. They can’t do anything for us. There are no UN people go to the villages which we’ve gone. They care about the authorities, I don’t like them. To save the poor people, do you need to care them? They even can pass the aids to the people who were going there. There are 4 or 5 groups like us. They just send the things to the some governmental offices. For what?

Q: how about people are starting begging?

A:Off course they are hungry. Who can take it? Don’t you think so? They are really starving.

Q: US said they want to help with some small boats which can go both in water and on the ground .This kind of boats are really can go far. But now almost one month, do you think it still need?

A: Definitely need. We gave them the radios to listen to what the world said; they are hoping and happy to wait for the aids such as ships from American, France and England. Now their hopes are all gone already, they are very very sorrow. They asked me ‘don’t they really come? They don’t really care us? How can we wait for our last minute of life? All the grannies and children are cried.


International Campaign for Food and Freedoms of Burmese People

30 May 2008

Burmese democratic forces and friends of Burma around the world, calling for an immediate international intervention for food and freedoms in Burma

May 29, 2008

Burmese democratic organizations – along with Burma campaign groups – around the world are calling for an immediate international intervention in Burma, reminding the international community that this is the time to bring a change in the military-ruled country.

And they call for formation of a “coalition of the willing” among like-minded counties such as U.S., U.K., French, Canada, and Australia, in order to advance a collective interest in ensuring safe and unhindered humanitarian access, as well as for promotion and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms for Burmese people.

They strongly criticize the United Nations and Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) for their repeated failure to live up to the international community’s expectation in providing food and freedoms for Burmese people, and for falling into trap the Burmese military junta set.

Burmese have suffered again and again under repeated ASEAN and UN's good intentioned but ill fated mediations. ASEAN and UN are simply no match for cunning and cruel Burmese generals who think nothing of breaking their promises. In the past, the end result of the ASEAN and UN failures were only imprisonments of thousands of political activists including our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Some of those prisoners died in custody. However, the number of deaths from the current crisis will be a thousand times larger than previous crises.

Five days after an apparent agreement by the Supremo General Than Shwe, there is no concrete result on the ground. There are even more restrictions for Burmese donors let alone foreign donors. Even Burmese ex-pat physicians who are planning mercy medical missions using their own resources are subjected to a lengthy visa process.

The regime is using police and armed forces not to help those cyclone victims but to force them back to their villages without any assistance. We know how the regime is going to play the game. There will be more meetings and open up a bit each time just to string along the UN.

More people are dying everyday. This is time for ASEAN and UN to admit its failure and let French, EU, US navy and international aid agencies handle the situation. At this time, the junta has extended the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi illegally after they exhausted the five year period. They have not shown any goodwill towards their own suffering citizens, political prisoners or the world community. There is no reason to believe that the junta will start to change as a result of more negotiation. Concrete effective action, whose time is way overdue, is the only recourse left.

We demand that UN and ASEAN stop the mediation NOW.

All the current available information from the international experts indicates that thousands of the cyclone victims are facing the second wave of death due to the outbreak of diseases. UN and ASEAN have clearly demonstrated the world that they were unable to persuade the Burmese military regime to save the lives of cyclone victims. As such, we request the Nations of the International Community willing to act upon the principle of “Responsibility to Protect (R2P)," to proceed with their noble intention to save the thousands of lives before it is too late.


Dr. Cynthia Maung (Burma Medical Association) Thailand
Tel: 66-55-544495

Dr Khin Saw Win (Alice) (Burma Medical Association) Canada
Tel: 780-4924547/780-9529877

Tin Maung Htoo (Canada)
Canadian Friends of Burma
Tel: 613-237-8056

Dr. Raymond Tint Way (Australia)
Concerned Burmese Physicians and Professionals
Mobile 61 0416220208
E mail

Dr Ko K Lay (UK)
Concerned Burmese Physicians and Professionals
Tel: 00 44 07790 427271

Dr. Soe Naung (Jamaica)
Concerned Burmese Physicians and Professionals
Tel: 876-995-2875

Dr. Aye Min (USA)
Concerned Burmese Physicians and Professionals
Tel: 804-512-4669

Moe Thee Zun (USA)
Democratic Federation of Burma

Ar Kar Soe (USA)
Anti-Dictatorship People’s Freedom Movement Tel: 301-213-0605

Yin Aye (USA)
Democratic Burmese Students Organization (USA) Tel: 301-905-7591

Tin Maung Thaw (General Secretary) (USA)
Committee for Restoration of Democracy in Burma

Min Yan Naing (Burma)
Generation Wave

Ko Ko Aung (Japan)
Democratic Federation of Burma (Japan)
Tel: +81-9015062893

Kyaw Kyaw Soe (Japan)
League for Democracy in Burma (Japan)
Tel: +81-9060314394

Khin Sandi (USA)
Women on the Move for Burma
Tel: 917 445 9222

Ko Thant Zin Myint (USA)
International Campaign for Burma (New York)
Tel: 347-229-4309

Ko Myo (USA)
88 Generation Students (Exile)
Tel: 347-668-5046

Aung Sa
Oversea Burmese Patriots (Singapore) Tel: +65-9487-4413

Taw Thar Gyi (Burma)
Democratic Front of the Patriots (HQ)

Shwe Htee (USA)
Nonviolent Empowerment Organization Tel: 571-235-4035

Dr. Thi Ha (USA)
Burmese Democracy Forum (Fort Wayne - Indiana)
Tel: 260-602-1876
Dong Khup (USA)
Chin Freedom Coalition
Tel: 443-629-3329

Athein & Zaw Min Htwe (88 Generation) (USA)
Walk for Freedom
Tel: 971 285 7399

Aung Nyaw Oo (Canada)
Burmese Students Democratic Organization
Tel: 416-262-5447

Thway Ni
Burmese Bloggers without Borders (

Aung Tin (Canada)
Chairman (NLD-LA Canada)
Tel: 647 343 7871

Yin Htway (Thailand)
Joint Secretary
Burma Political Prisoner's Union (
Tel: 0845755416

Guiding Star (Burma)

Ko Myat Soe (USA)
Justice for Human Rights in Burma ( ) Tel: 260-615-0575

U Than Aung (Canada)
Burma Watch International
Tel: (780) 439-7555
Cell:(780) 953-9877

Dr. Win Naing (UK)
Burmese Democratic Community
Tel: 0208 2067340


Helpless and Stranded

27 May 2008

[Source - Irrawaddy]

The look on Lei Lei’s face is one of hopelessness.

She takes no notice of the school uniform that a private donor had left for her. Instead, the 12-year-old girl stares ahead at the vehicles passing back and forth along the highway. On her back, her sick sister coughs relentlessly.

Every time a car passes by, Lei Lei raises her hand and shouts, “Please give us some food!”

Children line up to receive water from a local donor on the outskirts of Rangoon. (Photo: AP)
A truck stops a bit farther ahead and Lei Lei’s head swiftly turns in its direction. She sets off running, her baby sister bouncing up and down in the sarong over her shoulder.

Some of her friends are already waiting with hands scratching the air toward the truck drivers. They push and jostle their way closer to the back of the truck where two men are throwing packages down to those desperate souls below them.

After a struggle, Lei Lei emerges with a small pack of steamed rice. She shares some with her sister and eats the rest greedily.

Today was the 19th day that Lei Lei had spent begging for food on the highway—some three weeks since Cyclone Nargis destroyed her family home in Bogalay and killed her father.

She said she does not feel self-pity as all the survivors have to queue in lines all day to get a handout of food and drinking water.

“I feel sad when I hear that other children will go back to school next month though,” she says.

“But for now, I need food, not schooling.”

According to a recent government announcement, all schools in Burma—except in the areas devastated by the cyclone—must reopen on June 2. In the Irrawaddy delta, schools are still a long way from being rebuilt.

UNICEF says up to 90 percent of the schools in the cyclone-affected areas have been damaged or destroyed, totaling some 3,000 primary schools and affecting more than 500,000 students. The academic year for those areas will be delayed at least two months.

In the meantime, the Burmese junta is bargaining with the international community to leave all matters of aid and reconstruction in its hands.

“This time last year, my father took me to Rangoon to buy text books and stationery for school,” Lei Lei recalls tearfully.

She lays her small hand on her sister’s forehead to check her temperature.

“My sister has got a bad cold,” she murmurs. “She has been out in the rain for so long.”

Though they have plastic sheets for shelter at night, they have no protection from mosquitoes.

Like other traumatized survivors, Lei Lei also dreams about the fatal night that swept her father away.

"I cry out at night," she admits.

"My mother cries in her sleep,” she says. “When I ask her in the morning, she says she was thinking about my father.”

"Sometimes, I get involved in quarreling and fighting with other girls my age,” she says. “We are all trying to get as much food as we can.”

On May 16, flocks of cyclone victims rushed to a field where a helicopter was about to land. Fights broke out. Lei Lei says she was pushed aside by the crowd and fell over. Her baby sister was almost trampled.

In the end, no one got any food. The helicopter had only landed to take on more gasoline. The crowd’s fighting had proved futile.

When asked what she expects of the future with regard to education or her dreams, Lei Lei frowns and shakes her head.

"I must be on the side of the road from dawn to dusk every day," she says solemnly.