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Archive for Sunday, May 11, 2008

Myanmar uses aid for propaganda; junta holds vote

In this photo captured from video and released by the state television station MRTV-3, an unidentified military official passes out food aid at a relief camp Saturday in Myanmar. Myanmar's military regime distributed international aid Saturday but plastered the boxes with the names of top generals in an apparent effort to turn the relief effort for last week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise.

In this photo captured from video and released by the state television station MRTV-3, an unidentified military official passes out food aid at a relief camp Saturday in Myanmar. Myanmar's military regime distributed international aid Saturday but plastered the boxes with the names of top generals in an apparent effort to turn the relief effort for last week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise.

May 11, 2008

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— Myanmar's military rulers held a referendum Saturday aimed at solidifying their hold on power while brazenly turning cyclone relief efforts into a propaganda campaign. In some cases, generals' names were scribbled onto boxes of foreign aid before being distributed.

Human rights organizations and dissident groups have bitterly accused the junta of neglecting disaster victims in going ahead with the vote, which seeks public approval of a new constitution.

The referendum came just one week after Cyclone Nargis left more than 60,000 people dead or missing. The U.N. estimates that at least 1.5 million people have been severely affected.

Aye Aye Mar, a 36-year-old homemaker, looked frightened when asked if she thought anyone would vote against the referendum.

"One vote of 'No' will not make a difference," she whispered, her eyes darting around to see if anyone was watching. Then she raised her voice to declare: "I'm saying 'Yes' to the constitution."

Though international aid has started to trickle in - with two more planes organized by the U.N. World Food Program landing at Yangon's airport Saturday - almost all foreign relief workers have been barred entry into the isolated nation. The junta says it wants to hand out all donated supplies on its own.

But with roads blocked and bridges submerged, reaching isolated areas in the hard hit delta has been made all but impossible. The military has only a few dozen helicopters, most small and old. It also has about 15 transport planes, few of which are able to carry massive amounts of supplies.

Long lines formed in front of government centers, where minuscule rations of rice and oil were being distributed. Elsewhere, people clustered on roadsides hoping for handouts. The words "Help us!" were written in chalk on the side of one home.

"Please, don't wait too long," said Ma Thein Htwe, 49, who waited with dozens of other women and children at a monastery in Kungyangon for her ration of rice.

Ko Zaw Min, 27, said not enough aid was reaching his community. Each family was given just over a pound a day.

"I want to build my home where it used to stand, in the field over there," said the farmer, who lost his 9-year-old son and a 1-month-old baby in the disaster. "But I have nothing."

Despite international appeals to postpone the constitutional referendum, voting began Saturday in all but the hardest hit parts of the country.

As lines formed, state-run television continuously ran images of top generals including junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, handing out boxes of aid at elaborate ceremonies.

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK.

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