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Cablegate: Burma: Regime Backtracking On Its Cyclone Relief

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OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0492/01 1691245
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 171245Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7786
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1285
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4821
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8373
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5935
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1656
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1763
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 000492

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MLS, DRL, AND IO
PACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: REGIME BACKTRACKING ON ITS CYCLONE RELIEF
COMMITMENTS

REF: A. A: RANGOON 471
B. B: RANGOON 468

RANGOON 00000492 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary: Vice Senior General Maung Aye appears to
have taken control over the Cyclone Nargis relief efforts.
The UN obtained some flexibility from Minister of Planning
Soe Tha regarding the procedures the Minister announced June
10. However, the back and forth for easier access will
likely continue slowing relief efforts. The Post Nargis
Joint Assessment (PONJA) is going well, although the GOB has
not yet shared data it had agreed to. Assessment teams found
five villages that had not yet been reached with relief
goods, and nine WFP helicoptes continue to deliver relief
supplies several times a day. On June 10, the Minister of
Planning ordered WFP to cease its cash assistance program in
Rangoon Division because it was not using the official
exchange rate of 6 kyat/1USD which no one in Burma uses. End
Summary

2. (SBU) UN Acting Humanitarian Assistance Coordinator Dan
Baker told donor representatives he met with Minister of
Planning Soe Tha on June 13, to clarify the new humanitarian
assistance guidelines the Minister had issued to the UN and
INGOs on June 10 (Ref A). The two-and-a-half hour meeting
began with Soe Tha giving a one-and-a-half hour monologue on
his positive view of the relief efforts. Baker responded
that the Minister,s new guidelines had complicated relief
efforts and the new guidelines were a roadblock. NGOs were
confused about which ministry to go to for travel permits and
the line ministries were not granting the expedited approval
the GOB had promised for international assistance workers at
the TCG meetings. Baker emphasized the NGOs needed clear,
quick procedures and standardized forms, not another
bureaucratic layer.

3. (SBU) Baker reported that Soe Tha seemed surprised that
the procedures caused delays. The Minister agreed to
Baker,s suggestion that INGOs with no clear or established
line ministry could seek permission through the ministry of
Social Welfare. He also indicated that the Ministry of
Planning would be flexible regarding the requirement that
international staff travel with GOB liaisons. He clarified
that relief goods could go directly to the field and did not
need to first be stored in Rangoon. Soe Tha also said that a
statement of intent regarding distribution of relief supplies
would satisfy the requirement for a township-wide
distribution plan, and international aid workers did not have
to check in personally with Township Coordination Committees,
but could rather send a representative to notify the
committees of their arrival and departure in their respective
areas. Baker also recommended each ministry designate a
focal person for the UN and INGOs to work with concerning
necessary permissions.

4. (SBU) Since the TCG had just been set up two weeks
earlier as the relief coordination mechanism, the Minister of
Planning had totally bypassed it. Baker suggested that the
Minister of Planning join the TCG. Baker said that ASEAN TCG
Co-Chair Robert Chua had forcefully raised the new guidelines
with the GOB at a June 14 TCG meeting, as had ASEAN General
Secretary Surin Pitsuan during a visit to Burma the same day.
UNDP Deputy Sanaka Samarasinha observed that Vice Senior
General Maung Aye had taken authority over relief efforts
from the more pragmatic Prime Minister, Thein Sein (Ref A).
Since the Minister of Planning was close to Maung Aye, he
speculated that the Planning Minister had also injected
himself into the process.

5. (SBU) Baker noted that during the last two TCG meetings,
GOB TCG chair and Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu refused to
say anything, which Baker concluded was Kyaw Thu,s
recognition that his authority had been superseded. Although
Baker acknowledged that the new procedures had created
further delays, he emphasized that UN and NGO international
staff were obtaining permission to travel to the Delta, and
had even obtained permission to be stationed there. He had

RANGOON 00000492 002.2 OF 003


urged the GOB to grant "multiple-entry" travel permits to
facilitate travel and minimize bureaucracy.

6. (SBU) The ongoing Post Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA)
Damage and Loss Assessment (DaLA) teams had covered 84 of 128
quadrants. The World Bank representative reported good
cooperation from local authorities. Teams had already begun
to analyze the data collected. Although the Assessment teams
had received some data from township authorities and
ministries, the Ministry of Planning had not yet shared the
aggregate data they collected on damage and loss in the
cyclone affected areas, as previously agreed. Baker said the
UN had not been able to obtain this data from the Ministry of
Planning either. The DaLA assessors had to rely on secondary
data so planned to compare the data they received with the
more detailed data gathered by the Village Tract Assessors.

7. (SBU) Baker reported that the Village Tract Assessment
(VTA) was on target to finish on June 19, although the team
was slightly behind on its data entry due to equipment
breakdowns. So far, the assessors had found five villages
south of Labutta Township that had received no relief
whatsoever, so the UN had dispatched its helicopters to
quickly deliver food, shelter and water. In response to a
question by the AUSAID representative, Baker said the UN had
no reports that the presence of Home Affairs (police)
officials on the assessment teams had hindered cyclone
victims from speaking openly about their needs.

8. (SBU) Baker said some results of the assessment would be
shared at the ASEAN roundtable planned for June 24-25, and a
revised flash appeal would be issued in Geneva on July 3.
The final assessment report was scheduled to be released on
July 12. Regarding financing for long-term recovery and
rebuilding, the UN and the World Bank were taking a
"wait-and-see" approach. If the GOB remained "open and
positive" to the relief effort, the international community
would likely respond positively. The UN would continue to
evaluate how the relief effort was proceeding for a possible
donor,s conference in September. The representative from
the UN,s Coordination Office in New York said it did not
make sense to have another conference until donors had an
opportunity to see how assistance was being implemented on
the ground.

9. (SBU) WFP Representative Chris Kaye noted that nine WFP
helicopters were currently operating and reaching villages
with critical needs. Kaye also reported that on June 10, the
Minister of Planning ordered WFP to cease its cash assistance
programs in Rangoon Division because it was not using the
official government exchange rate of 6 kyat/1 USD which no
one in Burma uses. Kaye sent a letter to the Minister
protesting the rationale of his decision and noting the
Minister,s order challenged the WFP,s humanitarian
imperative in Burma.

10. (SBU) UNDP noted that agricultural input needs must be
integrated with other relief and early recovery efforts as
the GOB was focusing its seed assistance only on farmers who
own sixty acres or more. Accordingly the UN would focus on
small landowners and the landless. UNDP suspended repayment
requirements for the 50,000 active borrowers participating in
its micro-credit program in the Delta, while permitting
members to withdraw savings. Thus, UNDP would need an
infusion of cash to meet the liquidity requirements of both
its micro-credit program, with $3million in outstanding
loans, and funds for its self-reliance groups in the cyclone
affected areas.

11. (SBU) Comment: As we have seen too often the GOB will
make a concession and then start backtracking. The TCG
mechanism showed some promise to facilitate access for
disaster relief efforts. It did succeed in getting a
comprehensive needs assessment launched. However, the senior
generals cannot resist micromanaging everything and the
disaster relief effort is the most massive international

RANGOON 00000492 003.2 OF 003


undertaking in Burma in years. The UN and NGOs which have
been working here are used to this behavior and adept at
pushing back or going around the obstacles constantly being
erected. The UN and World Bank do not need to be planning
ahead for longer-term efforts since there will be no donor
money forthcoming if they cannot ensure adequate access and
accountability. That will continue to be a struggle.
VILLAROSA

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