Cyclone victims forced out of shelters to vote

May 16, 2008 (DVB), Cyclone survivors from the Irrawaddy delta who had taken refuge in Myaung Mya have been sent back to their villages to vote in the postponed referendum on 24 May.

Township authorities in Myaung Mya, Irrawaddy division, ordered the cyclone victims to leave the refugee camps and return to their devastated villages to cast their votes, town residents said.

The national referendum on the military regime's draft constitution was held in most of the country on 10 May, but has been delayed until 24 May in 47 of the worst-hit townships.

There are about 30 refugee camps in Myaung Mya, with most of the refugees coming from the Labutta area.

In Khayan, Rangoon, an aid volunteer said refugees have been thrown out of local school buildings and monasteries where they had taken shelter, also due to the referendum.

"The authorities are kicking refugees out of their shelters, saying they need to use the buildings for the upcoming referendum on 24 May," the volunteer said.

"Also they are only distributing low-quality rice to the refugees and not the good stuff given by foreign countries."

A refugee taking shelter in a monastery in Nyaung Thone Pin village in Than Lyin township, Rangoon, said cyclone victims there were also being expelled by township authorities.

"The authorities told us they needed to prepare things for an inspection by senior government authorities," he said.

"All our houses were destroyed by the cyclone and we have nowhere to go. Now we are being kicked out of the monastery as well and we are facing difficulties finding food and shelter."

The refugee said aid was being given out on a random basis and was still insufficient.

"Local authorities are distributing aid supplies using a lucky draw system and most of the tickets they hand us out are blank," he said.

"Even the winners only get a small amount of canned fish and instant noodles."

Residents of North Okkalapa, North Dagon and Hlaing Tharyar townships in Rangoon have reported similar incidents.

Aung Myo Min of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma said the authorities' behaviour was "inhumane".

"These victims are in serious need of emergency aid and there are people standing by to help them," he said.

"But the SPDC is preventing all this from happening."

Reporting by Aye Nai and Htet Yarzar

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