Wed, May 28, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar trying to clear away begging survivors

DESPERATION Officials handed out leaflets instructing people not to give to victims of the cyclone lining the streets, to preserve 'the dignity of the Myanmar people'


Children line up in the rain clutching bags of food handed out in the Shwepoukkan area of Yangon, Myanmar, on Sunday.


Myanmar police are trying to clear the roads of thousands of cyclone survivors whose desperation has reduced them to begging for food from passing cars.

With little official aid reaching the hardest-hit regions, volunteers have been driving to villages to deliver aid themselves.

Less than half of the 2.4 million cyclone victims have received official aid, the UN said, leaving many forced to survive on handouts.

Police, soldiers and immigration officers have put up roadblocks to question foreigners on the main route from Yangon into the devastated town of Dedaye in the delta, which bore the brunt of the storm that left 133,000 dead or missing.

Now police are warning volunteers against making donations, threatening to suspend their driving licenses.

“Aid goods should be given out at relief centers only,” one officer told a volunteer trying to give food to cyclone victims.

“The people should learn to feed themselves. They should return to their homes,” the officer said. “We do not want foreigners to think we are a country of beggars,” he said, jotting down the number plate and the volunteer’s ID number.

Police say they are trying to ensure the safety of the crowds of people who now line the region’s few roads, hoping for handouts.

Desperation has grown so intense that hundreds of people stampede every passing car, hoping to grab even a scrap of food.

Along the road leading to Dedaye, thousands of people wait, hoping for someone to give them food or clean water.

Military officials are distributing leaflets urging volunteers to stop giving food on the roadside, claiming that “some of the children and the adults are not victims of the cyclone.”

“For this reason, donors are advised not to make donations to anyone,” the leaflet reads.

“We encourage them to directly contact authorities in places where refugee camps have been set up,” it said, in order to avoid “arousing the scorn of tourists” and undermining “the dignity of the Myanmar people.”

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