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Jun 12, 2008 (DVB), The Union Solidarity and Development Association has begun to send its members to participate in relief efforts, possibly in a bid to counter criticism of the group, one commentator said.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that 264 youth members of the USDA would carry out reconstruction tasks in cyclone-hit areas of Irrawaddy division.
The USDA members were dispatched on 10 June in six teams, each supported by government IT technicians, and have been supplied with first aid kits, tools, cooking utensils, drinking water and toilet construction materials.
The article did not specify whether these items were donated by the USDA or provided by private or foreign donors.
Htay Aung, director of the research department of the Thailand-based Network for Democracy and Development, said the move was part of the USDA's strategy to play more of a political role.
"Since the time USDA leader general Htay Oo said the group could transform itself into a political organisation if necessary, the USDA members have been participating in social and development activities," Htay Aung said.
"In order to do that, they put pressure other social organisations such as the Free Funeral Service Society so that they can take over their roles."
Htay Aung said that the USDA's reputation had also suffered from its role in pressuring voters to support the military regime's constitution in the May referendum.
"The USDA was unable to participate in the beginning of the relief efforts for cyclone victims because they had to prioritise winning a lot of ‘Yes’ votes for the referendum that was held on May 10 and 24," he said.
"But now they have been under some heavy criticism and they want to respond to that by creating an impression that they have been enthusiastically participating in relief efforts, and so they began sending their members to the Irrawaddy delta."
Htay Oo is now in Rome attending the Food and Agriculture Organisation meeting.
Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw