Myanmar slams ‘chocolate bar’ foreign aid

AGENCIES , YANGON, MYANMAR

Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 1

Myanmar’s junta lashed out at offers of foreign aid yesterday, criticizing donors’ demands for access to the Irrawaddy delta and saying Cyclone Nargis’ 2.4 million victims could “stand by themselves.”

“The people from Irrawaddy can survive on self-reliance without chocolate bars donated by foreign countries,” the Kyemon newspaper said in an editorial.

The editorial also accused the international community of being stingy, saying that the UN’s “flash appeal” was still a long way short of its US$201 million target nearly four weeks after the disaster, which left 134,000 dead or missing.

“Myanmar needs about US$11 billion. The pledging amounted to over US$150 million, less than the US$201 million mentioned by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as emergency aid,” the editorial said.

The situation remains dire for many survivors in the delta. The army has started to bury bodies in communal graves, villagers said, although there has been no official word on plans to dispose of the thousands of corpses that still litter the fields and waterways.

Private donors, who received assurances in state media this week that they could go where they wanted, have also run into problems, with 46 drivers and vehicles being impounded on Sunday night on a trip out of Yangon.

“They told us not to make any donations to people begging by the road,” one of those held overnight said. “It is said that our donations will spoil their appetite for hard work.”

Meanwhile, an editorial in the New Light of Myanmar accused opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party of trying to incite riots in the aftermath of the cyclone.

The paper said the NLD had used donations for storm victims to spark unrest in a camp housing survivors.

“NLD is trying to exploit the situation politically, instead of cooperating with the people,” it said.

The editorial also accused some of the desperate cyclone victims waiting at roadsides for donations of being opportunists.

NEW CONSTITUTION

In related news, Myanmar’s new Constitution has been “confirmed and enacted” following a referendum this month, state television said yesterday, reading a statement by junta leader Than Shwe.

The announcement said 92.48 percent of voters had endorsed the charter, and that voter turnout was 98.12 percent.

Earlier, Myanmar had said the Constitution would only take effect in two years, once a new parliament convenes following planned elections.

Myanmar ignored international calls to delay the referendum and ploughed ahead with the polls this month, despite the devastation wrought by the cyclone.

The regime has said the Constitution will pave the way for elections in two years, but opposition say the charter will only entrench military rule.