Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Junta's aid rules delay relief, HRW says

RED TAPE Human Rights Watch said new rules require aid workers to obtain permits from Myanmar's government ministries, the UN, the ASEAN and township officials

AFP AND AP , BANGKOK AND YANGON, MYANMAR

New guidelines adopted by Myanmar's ruling generals are further delaying emergency efforts to deliver aid to regions ravaged by the cyclone, human rights experts said on Thursday.

The rules, issued on Monday, require UN and other aid groups to receive formal permission from Myanmar authorities to travel and to distribute aid.

Bureaucratic delays in the issuing of humanitarian visas and official roadblocks across the worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta region have already led to criticisms the Myanmar government was obstructing relief.

It had been hoped that assurances given to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon three weeks ago had eased the passage of aid.

“The government should be streamlining aid efforts to cyclone victims, not slowing down aid with these new rules,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Once again the generals are placing control of the population over the needs of the population.”

Human Rights Watch says the new rules require humanitarian workers to obtain permission from both Myanmar government ministries and the core group — including the UN, the ASEAN and the Myanmar governent — coordinating the aid effort.

The local authorities, known as Township Coordination Committees, must also be kept informed, it said.

The watchdog said its sources in Yangon also claimed that permissions were also necessary from regional and local military commanders, and that government officials must accompany all travel by foreign aid workers to the delta.

Meanwhile, the junta warned yesterday that assistance from the US could not be trusted.

In a clear reference to the US, a media mouthpiece for the regime warned that “the goodwill of a big Western nation that wants to help Myanmar with its warships was not genuine.”

Myanmar turned down humanitarian aid aboard naval vessels from the US, as well as the UK and France, which had sailed toward Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2 to May 3.

State media has said that Myanmar feared the US was using the cover of humanitarian aid to invade the country.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said yesterday that aid from nations who impose economic sanctions against Myanmar and push the UN Security Council to take actions against it “comes with strings attached.”

Despite such regular attacks by the junta against Western donor countries, celebrities, ordinary people and aid groups there have donated generously to help the cyclone victims. Queen Elizabeth II, Bill Gates, JK Rowling and a clutch of Hollywood stars have been among the givers.

However, the UN said on Thursday that it had received about half the money it requested for cyclone relief, with some nations apparently delaying their donations because of concerns about restrictions imposed by the military government on foreign aid workers.

The UN set a goal of US$201.6 million for its relief efforts but so far has received only US$88.5 million, or 44 percent, from government donors, it said. Some US$51 million in pledges has not yet been delivered, it said.

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