Myanmar's Media Criticize Cyclone Aid Agencies

Myanmar's military government lashed out at international aid agencies that are trying to help the victims of Cyclone Nargis. A state-run news agency has also criticized the amount of money that has been pledged for cyclone relief. NPR's Michael Sullivan is in Bangkok.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. First, international aid agencies complained about not getting in to help the victims of Myanmar's cyclone. Now that Myanmar's military junta has agreed to let those aid workers in, it's complaining about them.

The media, run by the state, now says that the people of the Irrawaddy Delta can survive on their own and don't need the, quote, "chocolate bars" donated by foreign countries.

Myanmar's rulers are also complaining that the international community hasn't pledged enough money for cyclone relief.

NPR's Michael Sullivan has been following this story for us, first from Myanmar and now from neighboring Thailand. And hello, Michael.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Didn't U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - who visited Myanmar last week - did he not win a pledge from Myanmar's leaders to allow aid workers the access that they need?

SULLIVAN: That's certainly the way he explained it after his meeting last Friday with Myanmar's senior general, Than Shwe. He said that the general had promised that all humanitarian workers who were waiting would be allowed in, and it just hasn't happened.

I mean, the U.N. has gotten several dozen visas this week. But one senior relief official told me today it's this simple: relief effort is far below where it needs to be and where it would be if the government wasn't imposing, in his words, such a never-ending series of constraints.

MONTAGNE: Well, it has been almost a month since that cyclone struck. The number of dead or missing is at 134,000. How is the relief effort going for those who survived?

SULLIVAN: It's going slowly. I mean, they're making some progress. The aid agencies have set up in the delta in some of the bigger towns with their local staffs. But some of these areas are only accessible by boat or by helicopter in some cases. And all of this has been made harder by Myanmar's military rulers who've just not allowed the aid (unintelligible) the access that they need, the personnel they need, the equipment they need, to get it done.

MONTAGNE: And what about the charges leveled by the state-run media that the international community actually isn't coming up with the sort of money that's needed?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, there was this donor's conference over the weekend and, you know, many millions was pledged, but it was also pledged with the understanding that the government would allow these humanitarian workers into the delta to deal with the survivors. And because that hasn't happened, I think both sides' tempers are fraying a little bit.

There was a story yesterday in one of the government mouthpieces that took a swipe at the international community that, you know, the cyclone victims didn't need help; it said that they could live on fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields. Well, you know, never mind that many of the fields in the delta have been inundated and are so salinated that getting a new rice crop to grow will be difficult.

And this piece also went on to say that some countries who were criticizing Myanmar for not opening its doors to aid workers weren't giving much aid. There are U.S. ships loaded with relief supplies that have been waiting offshore near the delta, waiting to be allowed to deliver them. And that hasn't happened.

MONTAGNE: There's also news this week of an ongoing issue in Myanmar. Nobel Peace Price Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for years, and she was told that that house arrest would be extended.

SULLIVAN: They can't afford to let her out, especially now, with so many people so angry at the military for their response to this cyclone. I mean they're not going to give any ground on this at all, not on Aung San Suu Kyi and not on this referendum that they have. According to the government, this referendum on a new constitution backed by the military passed overwhelmingly. Ninety-eight eight percent of those eligible to vote, the government says, did so. And how about this for a coincidence, Renee: 92 percent who voted for it during the second round in the storm-affected areas last weekend.

I mean despite the fact that they have no homes, no food, no water, no nothing, I mean it sounds just a little far-fetched.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michael Sullivan, who's been following news in Myanmar from Bangkok.

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