Burma: Cyclone aid must have 'no strings attached'

Burma insisted on Sunday that there must be “no strings attached” to foreign aid destined for its hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims, triggering a sharp reaction from donor countries.

Deputy Defence Minister Aye Myint told a high-level regional security forum in Singapore that authorities in Burma were trying their best to help their people, but no system was perfect.

The military junta, long wary of the outside world, has come under fierce international criticism for restricting crucial foreign aid after the May 2 to 3 cyclone tore through huge swathes of the impoverished nation.

The latest official toll puts the number of dead at nearly 78 000, with up to 56 000 others missing, and Burma estimates damage at about $10,5-billion.

“We would warmly welcome any assistance and aid which are provided with genuine goodwill from any country or organisation, provided that there are no strings attached, or politicisation involved,” Aye Myint said.

Responding to criticism from other delegates at the meeting, he added: “We are trying our best for relief, resettlement and rehabilitation of our storm victims because they are our people.

“But you have to understand that every process will not be totally perfect,” he said. “There is no objection to foreign aid workers and international NGOs entering for this purpose.”

He said Burma was now concentrating on reconstruction and rehabilitation work.

Pierre Lellouche, a ruling party member of the French Parliament, who was attending the Singapore forum, said he would press his government to propose a United Nations resolution that could hold the Burma regime liable to be brought before the International Criminal Court.

“The principle of non-interference in domestic affairs is not the right of regimes to have their populations killed in silence with nobody else able to interfere,” Lellouche said, shattering the polite tone of the forum.

“We need a system of sanctions to stop this scandal of having hundreds of thousands of people dying with help waiting outside and having a lecture about non-interference in domestic affairs,” he said.

A French navy ship carrying 1 000 tonnes of aid supplies waited for 10 days off Burma after being refused entry, and was eventually forced to turn back and hand over its cargo to neighbouring Thailand.

Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the Burma representative was “getting a good old-fashioned ear-bashing, as he should” at the forum, but was “in a state of denial”.

Aye Myint, a Major General, told the gathering that “for those groups who are interested in rehabilitation and reconstruction, we are ready to accept them in accordance with our priorities”.

“We would consider allowing them [into Burma] if they wish to engage in rehabilitation and reconstruction work, township by township,” he said at the conference, which gathers defence ministers, military officials and security experts from Asia, North America and Europe.

Burma has reluctantly asked its South-East Asian neighbours to coordinate the international cyclone relief effort, but aid workers on the ground have expressed frustration over the regime’s handling of the humanitarian crisis.—AFP

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