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Junta lays out guidelines for relief workers

Jun 12, 2008 (DVB), New guidelines set out by the Burmese authorities for relief operations in the country are likely to make it even more difficult for aid workers to provide effective assistance to cyclone victims.

Relief organisations were summoned to the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development on Tuesday for a briefing by NPED minister U Soe Tha, who outlined the ten regulations.

The briefing was attended by government ministers and senior officials, invited resident representatives and officials from United Nations agencies and NGOs.

The guidelines require the work programmes of all NGOs and UN agencies to be approved by the relevant Township Coordination Committee and government ministry, as well as by the Tripartite Core Group made up of representatives from the regime, ASEAN and the UN.

Relief workers will also need to provide regime officials with itemized lists of all aid supplies brought into the country and where they have been distributed.

Any field trips to affected areas must be approved in advance by the authorities and aid workers will be accompanied on their visits by government officials.

According to a situation report issued yesterday by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, international relief agencies are concerned that the guidelines will have an adverse impact on ongoing relief operations.

The UN has reportedly asked the military regime to explain the reasons for the new regulations and whether they would hinder ongoing assistance.

A relief worker who wished to remain anonymous told DVB that the purpose of the 10 guidelines , jokingly referred to by aid workers as the Ten Commandments , was to let the military regime know in advance what the organisations were planning to do and the details of their members and travel schedules.

The relief officer said that the new regulations would add to the difficulties already experienced by aid workers.

Soe Tha said the guidelines had been brought in to enable the government to keep records of the quantities and nature of aid received and where it had been delivered, and to avoid duplication of effort.

"Where there is no orderly and systematic distribution, it would lead towards duplication and uncoordinated activities should not take place in aid and assistance rendered to cyclone victims."

The minister said that now that the initial relief phase was over, a claim disputed by many, reconstruction work could be carried out in accordance with normal systematic procedures.

Since Cyclone Nargis struck Burma on 2-3 May, relief agencies have faced visa and customs restrictions on personnel and aid coming into the country, and have been barred from travelling to affected areas.

Government assurances that all relief workers would be able to travel freely to give aid to cyclone victims were not backed up on the ground, and the latest guidelines suggest that restrictions are far from being eased.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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