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UK's Gordon Brown Condemns Inhuman Burmese Regime

PM condemns "inhuman" Burmese regime

The natural disaster in Burma has now become a "man-made catastrophe", the Prime Minister has said.

In an interview broadcast by the BBC World Service this morning, Mr Brown said the country's military rulers were guilty of the "neglect and inhuman treatment" of the Burmese people. They would be held accountable for their actions, he added.

Read the interview
It is feared that 120,000 people may have died in the disaster, and more people are at risk of disease and exposure as the military junta continues to obstruct aid efforts.

The UK is the largest aid donor to the crisis having sent $35 million for relief efforts. HMS Westminster is also in the area ready to assist.

International agencies, including OXFAM, Save the Children and the World Food Programme, have suggested that air-drops would be counter-productive at the present time.

The PM said that the quickest way to get aid to people on the ground was for the Burmese government to allow access.

Mr Brown revealed that he had been having discussions with other world powers, including the Indian PM and Chinese government, about how to increase pressure on Burma's military rulers.

"This is a regime in Burma that is preventing the aid that ought to be getting to the people of Burma, getting there, and we will continue to use every international channel to pressure them to do what is the right thing by the people, that the issue is not their survival as a regime, the issue is the survival of people who are in desperately need of help."

***

FULL INTERVIEW

Interview with the BBC world service on Burma: In an interview broadcast by the BBC World Service, the PM said the country's military rulers were guilty of the "neglect and inhuman treatment" of the Burmese people. They would be held accountable for their actions, he added.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, is Britain doing enough for Burma?

Prime Minister

Well let me first send my sympathy and condolences to the people of Burma. This is a terrible tragedy. It is a humanitarian disaster. We know officially that the Burmese government are accepting that more than 70,000 people have died. We think the figure may be as high as 120,000 people, and of course 1.5 million people need help, and we are determined to make that help available. So first of all we are the largest aid donor - $35 million dollars sent in aid. We have been trying to bring together all that we can, aid for about 80,000 people with shelter, getting a humanitarian team on the ground, HMS Westminster in the area ready to help, plane loads coming from Dubai into Rangoon, and working with other international donors so that there is a regular supply of planes ready to distribute shelter, food and help to the people of Burma. And I think it is unfortunate that the regime has made it very difficult for us to get the aid to people.

Interviewer

If it is so difficult to get that aid in, how do you respond to that? I mean how far are you prepared to push this?

Prime Minister

Well it is possible to look at other means of doing so. There have been suggestions of air drops, invoking or supporting the responsibility to protect. But the quickest, most effective, most rapid way of getting aid to the people of Burma is that the government will cooperate and make it possible for aid to be distributed, to arrive in Burma itself, to be accepted in Burma, and to be distributed within Burma. And that is what we are trying to do as quickly as possible and with great speed.

Mark Malloch-Brown, our Minister, is in the region and talking to all the governments of the region, because it may be easier for ASEAN governments to work with the Burmese government to get aid directly to the people affected. The UN Secretary General - Ban Ki Moon - I have talked to him about a special summit, there is a meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Monday, there will be a further meeting at which I think the Secretary General will be present, to look at what all the ASEAN governments working with us can be able to do. And we hope that the United Nations will discuss these matters at the beginning of the week, because this is a humanitarian disaster, but it is also a natural disaster that has become a man-made disaster by the failure of the regime to use what aid is available to get it to the people of the country, and I urge all those who are part of the government and the administration to do everything in their power to get the aid now to those people who need it most.

Interviewer

Well it is two weeks on and it hasn't happened. Just last month you talked about the need on some occasions to use military force to enforce the right of civilians to be protected from this kind of calamity.

Prime Minister

There are two ways that the international community can look at these matters, their responsibility to protect, the right to humanitarian intervention which has been invoked previously. But we judge the situation at the moment as one where the quickest and most effective way of getting aid to people is by the regime being pressured.

Interviewer

But how?

Prime Minister

It is being pressured, and of course something has happened because there are aid flights getting into the country. But more has got to be done, and that is why the pressure has got to be stepped up. I spoke to the Prime Minister of India yesterday, we have been in contact with the Chinese government, I have been in contact obviously with the European Union and Mr Michel, but also Mr Barroso is trying to move things forward there. So the important thing is that there is sustained pressure on the Burmese government so that we can see them under pressure to get the aid that is now available, the aid that is on the coastline, the aid that is in the airport, the aid that is now ready to be dropped into the airport, the aid to the people on the ground.

Interviewer

Are you prepared to take as it were the Union Jack off the aid that you are sending to Burma, to give it if necessary to China, to ASEAN?

Prime Minister

Of course, of course.

Interviewer

But why has that happened, because from day one China was getting material in, and surely the most obvious way to do this was to give it to China and to let them do it?

Prime Minister

Of course, and I have talked to the Indian government and I have talked to other people about how we might do this, and there is a great deal of talking going on with the ASEAN governments. Mark Malloch-Brown, our Minister, has been in the region talking to the different governments to see what can be done. There will be no barrier to that, if that can actually happen, but we have got to get the ASEAN governments into a position where they are ready to put aid into the country and have got the means of distributing it also, and that has still been a problem because of the difficulties we have had with the regime.

And that is why I keep reminding you that the concerted pressure that we are bringing to bear in the international community, with the ASEAN governments, as well as with European and American governments, is the lever that we have got to continue to force out there so that we can get the aid to the people of Burma.

Interviewer

It is now 133,000 people dead are missing - 2 weeks on. At what point do you believe if would become necessary to use air drops or some kind of more assertive way of getting this aid to the people? There must come a point, surely?

Prime Minister

Let's be clear about two things. One is that for responsibility to protect and for all the international decisions that you are raising, we have to get agreement of the international community. And it has been difficult to get all countries to agree to a common approach about humanitarian aid through the United Nations. That is something we continue to push for.

As far as air drops are concerned, you know we rule nothing out, and the reason we rule nothing out is we want to get the aid directly to the people. But the best advice we have had from the international agencies that are involved is that it would either be at this stage counter-productive, or alternatively a diversion from what needs to be done to get aid to the people directly through the additional channels that are available.

Now obviously we will continue to look at that, and obviously we will take advice from people, people on the ground, but I think it has generally been recognised by the memos I have seen from Save the Children, from OXFAM, from the World Food Programme which itself said the World Food Programme that such a course of action at this stage would be counter-productive.

We will continue however to look at everything, but I think it is true to say in the last few days that some of the pressure has allowed flights to get into Rangoon and allowed aid to be distributed further. That pressure will intensify as it is over the next few days, and that is why Mark Malloch Brown is in the region, the United Nations is going to have David Miliband visiting America to talk to people about what we can do there, and that is why we are talking to every government in the region, and continue to do so.

This is a regime in Burma that is preventing the aid that ought to be getting to the people of Burma, getting there, and we will continue to use every international channel to pressure them to do what is the right thing by the people, that the issue is not their survival as a regime, the issue is the survival of people who are in desperately need of help.

Interviewer

What words would you use to describe the Generals in Burma?

Prime Minister

This is inhuman. We have an intolerable situation created by a natural disaster. It has been 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. Because whenever we see people in need, and whenever we see people in difficulty, the natural reaction of people in other parts of the world is to come to help and to offer whatever aid that they can make available to do so. The responsibility lies with the Burmese regime and they must be held accountable for their actions.

Interviewer

I take your point fully that the primary responsibility must lie with that government. Let me just put to you some of the comments that we have received at Bush House from the people who listen to our programming, which is that Britain took a lead in intervention in Iraq, took a lead in intervention in Kosovo, partly or largely on humanitarian grounds.

Prime Minister

And we are taking a lead now.

Interviewer

Inaudible.

Prime Minister

With the amount of aid that is available. Talking about the forms of action that you are raising, international agreement would be necessary for that. Unfortunately it has as yet been impossible to get agreement from the Security Council countries. And we continue to explore every possible avenue for help, but I think most people would agree that at this stage the pressure on the Burmese government to get them to provide aid to the people of their own country, by us making the aid available for them to distribute, that is still the most effective way forward, and we keep pushing for that.

Interviewer

Do you think the situation threatens the Burmese regime?

Prime Minister

I think the Burmese regime will be held accountable for their failure to act.

Interviewer

Who by?

Prime Minister

I think by the international community and eventually by the people of Burma.

Interviewer

And what do you think that means then, I mean more specifically?

Prime Minister

Well we have seen in the last few months the pressures on this grow, Aung San Su Kyi, the pressure from the Monks, the repression that took place. But look at the moment, the most important thing, and what people want to happen in every part of the international community is that aid gets to the people of Burma, and that is the most important thing, that people who could live are given the means by which they can live, people who are suffering are given some relief from their suffering, people who are without shelter are given shelter, people who are without food, given food. And it is the pressure on that in the immediate next few days that this the most important thing that matters.

Interviewer

Do you think that this regime will be in power in a year's time?

Prime Minister

I am not going to make predictions about that. What I do know is that this regime will be held accountable. And in the old world it was maybe possible to hide from your own people, and to hide from the international community, the scale of a disaster. In the old world it was possible by censorship and by repression and by making it impossible for information to flow to people, to deny people the truth about what was going on, even in your own country. That is now not possible. People know more, people can see what is happening and people can judge the failure of a regime to act.

ENDS

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