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Myanmar tightens security but denies evicting cyclone victims PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 09 June 2008

Myanmar tightens security but denies evicting cyclone victims

AFP, BOGALAY - Myanmar has tightened security across the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta but on Sunday denied evicting storm victims from emergency shelters and forcing them to return to ruined villages.

Soldiers armed with assault rifles staged frequent roadblocks along the main highways in the delta, and set up posts at every street leading into the town of Bogalay, according to an AFP reporter who slipped past the security.

Soldiers cleared the highways of storm victims from outlying villages who have been reduced to begging for handouts of food from passing cars.

The soldiers said they were worried for the safety of people on the roadside, but with entire villages washed away in the storm, many survivors have no shelter other than their makeshift tents along the road.

Cyclone Nargis left more than 133,000 people dead or missing when it pounded into Myanmar five weeks ago.

The United Nations estimates that 2.4 million people need emergency aid, but that one million have yet to receive any foreign assistance.

Local donors have tried to fill the gap, organising community-based relief missions to deliver supplies.

But soldiers at the roadblocks are conducting strict searches of every vehicle, checking the identification of all the passengers, and turning many people away.

The storm laid waste to broad swathes of the delta, Myanmar's most important rice-growing region, raising fears that farmers will not be able to sow new crops before the planting season ends in three weeks.

Amnesty International on Thursday accused Myanmar of forcing thousands of people from official shelters, giving them just six dollars and two small portions of rice to return to their ruined villages.

Other storm victims were forced out of schools so that classes could resume last week, Amnesty said.

The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar said the claims were "totally groundless," and insisted storm victims had been given relief supplies so they could voluntarily return home.

"A storm does not last for more than one or two days. Now, all has been over," it said.

"The authorities have allowed the victims to return home if they want to. Allowing them to return to their home places is not uprooting them or ignoring their difficulties," it said.

The paper also denounced foreign media and Western countries for spreading "rumours" about the extent of the cyclone damage.

"The government has been able to carry out the emergency relief operations," it said. "Moreover, it has been able to fulfil the urgent needs of the storm victims such as shelter, food and health care while restoring their livelihoods to a certain degree."

Myanmar promised the world at a donor conference in Yangon two weeks ago that it would allow foreign aid and experts into the delta. While more aid has been arriving, progress has been slow.

Five UN-chartered helicopters arrived Saturday in Myanmar's former capital Yangon to join the aid effort, after being held up for days in Bangkok.

The military has ruled this country, formerly known as Burma, for nearly a half century.

The reclusive generals are deeply suspicious of the outside world, and have flatly refused help from foreign militaries -- last week turning away warships laden with emergency supplies.

While the World Food Programme and groups such as the French charity Doctors Without Borders are visible in the delta, the needs are far greater than the still-small supplies making it in.

Health workers at one clinic in Bogalay say they have no medicines to offer, so traditional healers have begun trying to diagnose patients and offering herbal remedies instead.

One nurse has only a stethoscope to examine the 50-60 patients who come to her every day.

"We have not seen any major outbreaks of disease, but there are many people who come in every day," said one worker at the clinic.

"I have treated people with injuries from the cyclone," she said. "It's hard to follow up on how they are doing now, because many have gone back to their villages and it's a little bit impossible to check on them there."

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