International Pressure on Myanmar Junta Builds
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: May 18, 2008
YANGON, Myanmar — International pressure on the ruling military junta in Myanmar continued to grow over the weekend as a senior United Nations envoy was due to arrive in Yangon on Sunday to talk with government officials about what the United Nations has called a slow response to international aid offers after Cyclone Nargis.
John Holmes, under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, has talks scheduled with top members of the government, although diplomats in Yangon said it was unlikely that Mr. Holmes would be allowed to meet with the junta’s leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe. The general has remained in the remote capital of Naypyidaw, far from the storm-damaged delta in the south.
In the two weeks since the cyclone hit, the junta has allowed in a modest amount of supplies from a number of nations, but relief workers say it is far short of what they need to fend off starvation and disease. The United Nations says only 20 percent of the survivors have received even “rudimentary aid.”
In some of the harshest comments, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the BBC on Saturday that a natural disaster “is being made into a man-made catastrophe by the negligence, the neglect and the inhuman treatment of the Burmese people by a regime that is failing to act and to allow the international community to do what it wants to do.”
The French ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, warned on Friday that the government’s refusal to allow aid to be delivered to people “could lead to a true crime against humanity,” according to The Associated Press.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations also called an emergency meeting of its foreign ministers for Monday in Singapore.
The association has asked to see a disaster report from the junta and wants to discuss the regime’s refusal to accept more aid and its refusal to allow foreign relief experts into the country. Traditionally, however, the bloc’s political clout with individual members has been weak; one of its founding principles is “non-interference in the internal affairs of one another.”
A French government statement said a navy ship was waiting about 15 miles outside Myanmar’s territorial waters on Saturday, hoping to go in and unload its cargo of 1,000 tons of food — enough to feed 100,000 people for 15 days. The aid also includes shelters for 15,000 people, according to the statement.
France is negotiating with Myanmar on delivering the aid, Rear Adm. Alain Hinden, the ship’s commander said, The A.P. reported.
India also sent 50 Army doctors and paramedics, along with medical supplies to set up emergency medical clinics, to Yangon on Saturday, although it is unclear if they had government approval to travel to affected areas.
All foreigners have been expelled and banned from the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta, even humanitarian aid workers with long experience in Myanmar. Impromptu aid convoys by local groups and private citizens — often with supplies donated by Burmese companies — have been turned back at military checkpoints.
“These guys are xenophobic,” Shari Villarosa, the senior diplomat at the United States Embassy in Yangon, said in a recent interview, referring to the military leadership.
The government said that almost 78,000 people have died and nearly 56,000 more are missing. The Red Cross put the possible death toll at 128,000.
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