Relief aid after Myanmar cyclone tragedy

It appears that just as the revelation that Holocaust bank accounts had been retained for decades by Swiss banks without much effort to identify survivors or heirs was used to wrench modifications in the secrecy provisions that were the Swiss banking system’s greatest pride and asset, the disaster caused by the recent cyclone in Myanmar is being used to pry that secretive and closed regime open as well.

China Hand has posted, on his blog China Matters, http://chinamatters.blogspot.com/, on 20 May about his/her “unwillingness to accept at face value the assertions in the international media that the government’s response to the cyclone has been callous and criminally incompetent. Myanmar was knocked on its behind by Cyclone Nargis. Any government response will be, by some measure, inadequate. That’s why these things are called ‘disasters … What is not getting into Myanmar is foreign aid teams that the UN and the USA are insisting must be admitted in order to make independent assessments without Myanmar government input of how and where aid should be distributed. The United States attempted, unsuccessfully, to make admission of its assessment teams a precondition for supply of aid during the initial rescue stage, but quietly abandoned this unpalatable and unnecessary demand. Now that disaster relief is moving into the recovery and reconstruction stage, the US assessment team demand has reemerged as a linchpin of American strategy and a mainstay of its propaganda campaign against the Myanmar regime. Reporting this situation as ‘not letting in aid’ is, in my opinion, misleading and dishonest”.

China Hand also wrote in that post an assertion that “the United States is playing politics with aid relief in order to put pressure on the Myanmar regime”.

Today, China Hand has given an update of his/her views on what’s happening in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis:

What the Myanmar regime is doing:

Disaster relief on a brutal triage basis.

Exerting iron control over the delta to make sure it is the only viable aid conduit (it is becoming more apparent that the Myanmar military does have a significant presence in the delta and its guiding priorities are not simply disaster relief: they are control of the population and control of the aid process—objectives we find reprehensible—that are part of an integrated strategy to successfully extract aid and diplomatic engagement from other countries. In other words, a carefully conceived and executed—and apparently successful– strategy to leverage the cyclone survivors as hostages.)

Accepting civilian aid that it distributes according to its priorities and objectives.

Not accepting military aid. (Foreign military flights are probably impossible even after the junta controls the situation in the delta and allows foreign aid workers on the scene).

What it is not doing:

Not accepting aid. This canard has caused a lot of heat and confusion that has obscured the true nature of what’s happening in the delta. It’s not incompetent, malign neglect—it’s the planned and energetic imposition of regime control over the disaster scene and the aid process—and the acceptance of no-strings-attached assistance from friendly or apolitical parties and dump-and-go aid.

What the Burmese people are doing:

The bulk of disaster relief, heroically, as local communities always do, even in horrific catastrophes of this magnitude

What in-country NGOs and their largely Burmese volunteer staffs are doing:

A tremendous job

What NGOs without a local presence are doing:

Looking for an aid mechanism that will assist them in playing a meaningful but secondary role

What the United States, France, and the UK are doing:

Worrying excessively about the junta gaining an undeserved political and economic bonanza from the disaster

What they are not doing:

Effective, large-scale disaster relief

What they should not be doing:

Trying to strip control of the aid process from the junta by advancing doomed-to-fail humanitarian intervention agendas

What ASEAN and the UN are doing:

Doing the right thing and organizing apolitical relief and a mechanism that will allow foreign aid to flow—that will unfortunately benefit the junta.

What the free-Burma organizations are doing:

Seething in justifiable frustration as the junta exploits the disaster to advance its economic and political agenda

What should be done:

Engage apolitically with the junta despite its corruption and brutality to restore the physical infrastructure of the delta and get the monsoon paddy planted.

What should be done after the basic physical security and livelihood of the people in the delta has been secured:

Link reconstruction and development aid to political reforms”.

Good job, China Hand.

Read the full posts on 20 and 29 May here .

UN USG Ibrahim Gambari meets Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar

Yes!

Ibrahim Gambari — Special Representative of UNSG BAN Ki-Moon, and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the UN — did succeed in meeting today in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi . She has been held under house arrest for some 18 years, but today she was whisked to a Government Guest House for the meeting with Gambari. Suu Kyi is the daughter of a former Burmese opposition leader. And she is a former employee of the UN (they probably did not renew her contract — and she was apparently never promoted!).

However, Gambari apparently did not manage to meet either of Myanmar’s (formerly Burma’s) top leaders, who are officers in the country’s military, which has ruled the country for the last 45 years.

The UN has long sought to win Suu Kyi’s freedom, and national political reconciliation in Myanmar. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won elections in 1990, but were not allowed to take office.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that “Thant Myint-U, the grandson of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant and the author of The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, said that the country’s two decades of isolation make the government very difficult to influence. ‘The military leadership is quite happy with the status quo, an inert country that is not engaged with the outside world’, he said.”

The LA Times also says that a communications clamp-down in Myanmar, aimed at stifling news of civic protests and violent repression, is still largely effective.
The LA Times story on the UNSG’s concerns about the situation in Myanmar is here.

The Associated Press is reporting that “On Sunday, the number of troops in Yangon, the largest city, swelled to about 20,000 after reinforcements arrived overnight, ensuring that almost all demonstrators would remain off the streets, an Asian diplomat said on condition of anonymity. ‘I think the chance of protesters coming to the road and mobilizing enough people to topple the junta is zero’, he said … People suspected of leading or organizing the rallies continue to be arrested, the Asian diplomat said, estimating the total number could be as high as 1,000, including several prominent members of the NLD. They joined an estimated 1,100 other political detainees who have languished in jails since before the current turmoil began Aug. 19 with protests against fuel price increases. With the main prison overcrowded, people are now being detained in university buildings and educational institutes, he said.” The AP story on the continuing repression in Myanmar is here.

The recent demonstrations have been galvanized by the large scale participation of Buddhist monks. The Agence France Presse reports today that “In dramatic scenes a week ago, the 62-year-old opposition leader [Aung San Suu Kyi] stepped out of her home in tears to greet Buddhist monks who marched past the house where she has been confined for most of the past 18 years. The march was part of nationwide rallies which erupted two weeks ago led by the revered Buddhist monks, and have evolved into the most potent challenge to the ruling junta for some two decades … The protests first erupted last month after a massive hike in fuel prices, but escalated two weeks ago with the emergence of the Buddhist monks on the front line and drew up to 100,000 people onto the streets last week…”
The AFP report is published here.

China and Russia veto Myanmar resolution

South Africa also voted against the draft, in the UN Security Council on Friday. 

It could not have been a big surprise to the U.S., which sponsored the draft proposal, together with the U.K.  China said it voted against the measure, because the situation in Myanmar was not a threat to international peace and security, and therefore not a matter that the Security Council was mandated to deal with.  Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who is President of the UN Security Council this month, said publicly in early January that the Security Council was not the place to deal with human rights matters.

The AP reported that Ambassador Churkin said: “We find that attempts aimed at using the Security Council to discuss issues outside its view are unacceptable.”  He observed that other U.N. bodies were looking at the situation in Myanmar.

The AP also reported that China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said he voted against the resolution for the same reason. However, Wang said that Myanmar was not moving quickly enough to promote stability.  The Chinese Ambassador urged the military regime to move toward “inclusive democracy” and “speed up the process of dialogue and reform.”

The draft proposal demanded an end to political repression and human rights violations in military-ruled Myanmar.

AP also reported that acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the U.S. aim was to put the situation in Myanmar in the global spotlight and to support its people.  “The people of Burma should not be disheartened” by the outcome, he said, because the vote reflected differences over the Security Council’s jurisdiction, not about their plight.

Three Security Council members abstained — Qatar, Indonesia, and the Republic of Congo.