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Myanmar junta seizes aid shipments

Military junta blocks new aid and insists on constitutional referendum despite cyclone disaster

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Story Transcript

VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: In what the Asia times calls a woeful response, Myanmar’s military junta seized shipments of humanitarian aid from The World Food Programme. The shipment of 38 tons of relief goods was meant to alleviate the survivors of last weeks deadly cyclone which killed at least 70, 000 and displaced over one million people. The government has refused to grant visas to foreign aid workers, as it insists on holding a constitutional referendum, which observers criticize as a fait accompli. To give us further insight we go to The Real News Network analyst Pepe Escobar.

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: The junta in Myanmar is arguably the most vicious military dictatorship in the world today. Compared to them, Saddam Hussein was a saint. So guess what’s more important for this junta – over 1.5 million, perhaps 2 million shocked, traumatized, homeless and very, very ill Burmese, the victims of cyclone Nargis, or a referendum on a new constitution this Saturday to strengthen even more their grip on power? The whole world saw when the junta, last September, forced their soldiers to fire against tens of thousands of peaceful monks in Rangoon. Myanmar in a way is a giant gulag. The repression system is worse than the Stasi in the former East Germany. The repression of the monks was tragic. Everybody knows that. But, what’s happening now is beyond tragic. People are dying, by the tens of thousands, especially around the Irrawaddy River Delta. That’s Myanmar’s rice bowl. An army of aid workers meanwhile is sitting in Bangkok waiting for visas. The local media, like the tragicomic New Light of Myanmar newspaper, is calling people to, I quote, "resist foreign intervention.” And meanwhile government ministers, bureaucrats are talking about, I quote, “flourishing discipline democracy.” Anybody in Rangoon, the former capital, who dared to wear a "Vote No!" T-shirt and there were plenty around, they have been arrested. The Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest. Nobody has seen this draft constitution. In Rangoon, you can buy a copy for around US $1. But, 80% of families in Myanmar, they live on less than US $2 a day. They cannot even buy a copy of the [inaudible] constitution. Burmese exiles in Thailand denounce this referendum as a, I quote, "license to kill" – but there’s not much the international community can do about it.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the UN should invoke its, I quote, "responsibility to protect" civilians to force shipment of aid to the victims of cyclone, whatever the junta says.

But, for this to happen we would need a serious commitment by the Bush administration. The problem is Dick Cheney; his circle are obsessed with the Middle East. But it does not escape many bright minds in Washington [inaudible] the huge benefits of the whole world applauding the Pentagon for once for a preemptive humanitarian rescue operation. What about Myanmar’s key ally, China? Well, China so far has told the junta to work with the UN and the Red Cross–and not against them. Myanmar in fact is an ally of China. China has huge oil and gas interests in Myanmar. But it’s hard for China to ask Myanmar to allow foreign aid workers into the country when China denies foreign human rights workers to go to Tibet. So, will the Bush administration have the courage to demonstrate in practice that the US can be a force for good? Or is this human tragedy–this overwhelming tragedy–the question is, in Myanmar just a sideshow compared to the ghostly war on terror?

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.