Burma flood relief teams ‘threatened’

Relief efforts in the flood-stricken region of central Burma are being hampered by intimidation and threats from township-level authorities, who consider public-run initiatives as undermining state authority.

A resident of Yesagyo township in Magwe division, which was among a number of towns hit by heavy flooding earlier this month that left more than 200 people dead, told DVB that a group of 30 youths led by a local monk had approached authorities to inform them of their relief work.

The municipal chief reportedly replied that they were not permitted to do the work on account of the looming Buddhist full moon celebrations, but that they went ahead and collected donations regardless.

“The township’s administrative chief U Zaw Soe then summoned them to his office and warned them what they were doing was prohibited without approval from authorities, and threatened to charge them,” he said.

Victims of the 20 October floods complained last week that the government was stalling over emergency relief efforts, with little sign that an official response had been formulated, despite Vice President Sai Mauk Kham visiting the region on 23 October.

Thousands of people have sought shelter in monasteries in the worst-hit towns of Pakokku and Pauk and rudimentary relief teams financed by local businessmen have stepped into to offer help.

Their task however is a risky one: the Burmese government jailed dozens of volunteer workers in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 whom it perceived to be undermining state operations, despite them being woefully inadequate.

Among these were civilians who helped to bury corpses of the 138,000 who perished in a bid to stop the spread of disease. A number of these remain behind bars.

Several Burmese journalists were also given lengthy prison sentences for documenting the grisly aftermath of Burma’s worst-recorded natural disaster, which showcased the government’s ineptitude at handling such crises.

Both Burma and Thailand have experienced heavy flooding in the past month. An area the size of Kuwait is underwater in Thailand, where the death toll now stands at 381 and more expected. Thousands of Burmese migrants attempting to flee Thailand have been arrested by Thai police.

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