Local effort to help Myanmar people directly

May 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A deadly stalemate continues Friday in Southeast Asia. The military rulers of Myanmar continue to refuse most foreign aid in the wake of last weekend's cyclone. With hundreds of thousands of people desperate for relief supplies, the critical issue is whether the government will allow many of them to die. Friday night people gathered in San Francisco to bypass the Myanmar Government, and send help straight to the survivors.

"Where do we want the aid? In Burma. When do we want it? Now," chants the crowd.

Outraged that Myanmar's military regime has refused to accept disaster relief, local Burma supporters rallied outside San Francisco's Federal Building Friday night.

Some shouted, some meditated and many carried photos of family and friends. A woman weeps for the fate of her mother and sister.

"So they stay in a monastery and they tell me there is a shortage of food, of clean drinking water, and the main thing is the medical supplies," says Saw Mar, a local resident with family in Burma.

On Friday, two planes loaded with enough high energy biscuits to feed 95,000 refugees from last week's cyclone, were confiscated by the military regime. The United Nations called the seizure outrageous.

"The longer we sit on the sidelines, the longer that the relief commodities are not able to enter the country. People are dying and it's approaching a week," says Ky Luu from the U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance Office.

"This has hardly ever happened before, a government in huge distress by this tragedy refusing help at this level. So new options might be needed," says Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.

Some are advocating a relief invasion, air drops or beach landings of food without the consent of Myanmar's rulers. Over one and half million cyclone survivors are homeless. Helping them is estimated to cost $187 million. Even the head of the U.N. has been rebuffed by Myanmar's government.

"I want to reiterate the urgent need for critical aid and humanitarian workers to be allowed into the country without any hindrance," says Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General.

Some activists are collecting donations, they say they are able to smuggle in money, but there are no supplies to buy, no gasoline to fuel relief trucks and no nails to tack on tin roofs before the coming monsoons.

"The rainy season is just beginning now and Rangoon gets battered with 25 inches a month," says Nick Harmony, a Burma Activist.

According to an ABC reporter in Myanmar, the military regime actually distributed T.V. sets and DVD players to storm victims in various camps throughout the county, not food or medicine. More fatalities are expected from deprivation.


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