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Cyclone Relief Efforts Slowed by Myanmar Junta

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Cyclone Relief Efforts Slowed by Myanmar Junta


Cyclone Relief Efforts Slowed by Myanmar Junta

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie. Scott Simon is away receiving an honorary degree today.

Myanmar continues its struggle to recover from last weekend's devastating cyclone that has left an estimated 100,000 people dead and nearly two million homeless. Myanmar's military junta has seized relief shipments and refused to allow foreign aid workers into the country, even as the threat of disease and starvation mount.

Amid the devastation the government is going ahead with a constitutional referendum. An NPR correspondent is in Myanmar. We are not identifying him because he doesn't have official permission to be in the country. What's the latest on relief efforts? Is any aid getting through?

NPR CORRESPONDENT: My understanding is that the international aid agencies are getting a couple of more flights in today after they had trouble getting some in yesterday and after they actually had some get in and then they had their cargo seized. This is an airport that's only 40 to 60 miles from the worst affected areas here. And you would think that this would be the major staging area for any relief efforts.

And the airport this morning was just absolutely empty. There was just a couple of domestic passenger planes that were there ready to ferry tourists to some of the tourist areas farther north of the country, but that was it. There wasn't a single aid plane to be seen on the ground, there was only or two Myanmar military helicopters on the ground and they didn't look like they were loading any supplies or anything.

YDSTIE: Well, what's the official word from the government and how does it square with what the aid agencies are saying?

NPR CORRESPONDENT: The government says that it's welcoming aid from the international community but that at this point in time it doesn't want to really allow any new foreign aid workers in to help distribute that aid. And this is of course what the foreign agencies are balking at because this is what they do, they know how to do it, they know how to do it quickly, and they're being stymied in those efforts, they're still waiting for visas.

There are some international aid groups on the ground already that have been here even before the cyclone struck and they're doing what they can and the local government is helping them distribute the aid that they have on the ground, but they need to do a lot more. They need more temporary shelter, they need more water, they need more food, they need more mosquito nets.

And you know, they need to get them in and they need to get the people in who know how to deliver them. It's not happening the way they want it to happen, not even close.

YDSTIE: Where are you right now?

NPR CORRESPONDENT: I'm in a place where the polling for the referendum went ahead today. Now you have to remember that today was the date that the government here had scheduled for this referendum on a new constitution that they say is part of their road map to democracy. And they had this referendum scheduled; after the cyclone happened they said that it would be postponed in the worst-hit areas but it would go ahead, you know, all over the rest of the country.

And where I am today people went out and voted but the, you know, the government, the official media has been really hammering people to go out and vote. They've been calling it in the broadcast media "your official patriotic duty" to go out and cast a yes vote for this new constitution which is basically one that opposition groups, human rights groups call a sham.

The people here that I spoke with who voted, a lot of them said they voted because they thought it was a prudent thing to do. A lot of people who said they didn't vote said that, you know, they saw no point in voting because they just thought that, you know, nothing was really gonna chance. But there were a few people who actually said they voted no because they wanted to send a message.

They were just frustrated at this point with the way things have been going here all along; the cyclone and the government's response to the cyclone. The people here know about this. They don't get it in the Myanmar media, but they get it independently from other independent outlets.

YDSTIE: Thanks very much. Our NPR correspondent in Myanmar.

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