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Burma Blames Suu Kyi & Fake Donors For Riots

Burma Blames Suu Kyi & Fake Donors For Cyclone Riots


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- After extending Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest for one year, Burma's military junta on Thursday (May 29) blamed her political party members, and fake donors, for inciting Cyclone Nargis survivors to riot.

Washington, London, Paris and other foreign governments blasted Burma for extending Mrs. Suu Kyi's house arrest on Tuesday (May 27) for another year, after detaining her without trial as a "security threat" for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

The U.S., Europe and other countries said international relief was a priority, however, and aid efforts would continue, mostly through countries friendly to Burma, the U.N., and non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. has been allowed to send more than 70 C-130 cargo flights -- carrying plastic sheets, water containers, hygiene kits and food -- from Thailand to Burma's commercial port of Rangoon, but the trickle is not enough, U.S. officials said.

"The United States has 8,000 service members and four naval ships now in international waters off the coast of Burma, ready to help when requested by the government of Burma," U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric G. John said on May 21, referring to USS Essex and other warships in the Bay of Bengal.

Burma rejected that offer, and also a similar plea by France which then sent its warship, the Mistral, to Thailand's tourist- playground island of Phuket where the ship's relief goods were to be off-loaded and delivered to Burma by other means.

Foreign U.N. staff workers, meanwhile, received visas this week for the first time since the cyclone hit on May 2.

They joined Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision and other organizations which also finally received visas allowing its foreign experts into Burma to help survivors.

About 78,000 people perished from the cyclone and its Bay of Bengal tidal swells, and 56,000 others disappeared, according to Burma's official estimates.

The military regime, meanwhile, began defending itself for its allegedly cruel handling of the crisis, and unleashed a new propaganda campaign against Mrs. Suu Kyi, and foreign journalists, blaming them for using cyclone victims as pawns against the junta.

In 1990, Mrs. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) candidates won more than 80 percent of parliament's seats in a nationwide election, but the military refused to recognize the polls.

On Thursday (May 29), the regime said her NLD party members in Pathein town, on the stricken Irrawaddy River delta, handed out cash to victims at a relief camp, and then quarreled with "local authorities," angering survivors.

"That event was profound evidence that the NLD is attempting to incite the outrage of the victims and their problems, and to make the public outrage go into riots," the regime's New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Thursday (May 29) in comments reprinted in its Burmese-language daily newspapers, Myanma Alin and Kyemon.

The junta did not name any of the NLD party members who were "trying to exploit the situation politically," or say when it happened.

Foreign news photos and TV broadcasts, showing emaciated survivors grasping for any help they could get, also included scenes sinisterly orchestrated by fake donors who intentionally sparked a riot, it said.

"In some cases, such people in the disguise of donors, incited a riot by provoking the outrage of the crowd on the road," it said, describing desperate survivors pleading for food, water and other relief from passing vehicles.

"Some shot the scenes, in which people were in a scramble to get money and things dropped from moving vehicles, and sold the tapes and photos to foreign media," the junta said, without providing details.

"If foreigners, watching those tapes and looking at those photos, misunderstand the status of our country, the image and dignity of the nation and the people will go down the drain."

Most of the junta's media focused on stories praising the military for providing aid and rushing to hard-hit areas to save lives.

The regime also thanked the foreign community for sending cyclone aid, and emphasized that Burma was a "Buddhist country, whose people are very generous to others."

An estimated 2.4 million survivors -- half of them homeless -- have been struggling since Cyclone Nargis hit.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is mainland Southeast Asia's biggest country and possesses vast, under-developed natural resources and agricultural land.

Its economy has been devastated by decades of official corruption, political repression, and extensive U.S.-led international sanctions that have failed to oust the military, which seized power in a 1962 coup.

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Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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