UN hails ‘trusting’ relations with Burma

Trust has been built between the UN and the Burmese junta in the two years since cyclone Nargis, a UN representative said at a regional conference on Monday.

That sentiment however has been approached cautiously by the chief of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc, Surin Pitsuwan, who warned that if and when a natural disaster like Nargis strikes again, “we will go to the field together from the very beginning”.

The military generals who have ruled Burma in various guises for nearly half a century were roundly condemned for refusing offers of foreign aid in the wake of the cyclone on 2 May 2008, which killed some 140,000 people and left 2.4 million destitute.

Many of the deaths were attributed to the slow response by the government, as thousands became ill with water-borne diseases that were easily treatable by basic medicines.

But instead as the scale of the catastrophe, one of Asia’s worst recorded natural disasters, became apparent, the junta locked the country’s borders, barring aid workers and journalists from entering the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy. Numbers of Burmese relief workers who helped bury the victims are now serving lengthy prison sentences.

Several weeks after the cyclone, the Burmese government finally acceded to requests to form a Tripartite Core Group (TCG) with the UN and ASEAN, but earlier this month officially bowed out and brought ongoing relief efforts under the sole jurisdiction of the military generals.

Surin said however that “Myanmar [Burma] has come to realise there is help out there” from the international community, but added that a lot of work still needed to be done by the generals to convince the world that it will cooperate, a contentious scenario given elections later this year that may well cement the status quo in Burma.

“If this…fails, then the world will certainly be very reluctant to continue to work and integrate Myanmar into the international community post-elections…So it is extremely critical, extremely important.”

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