Burma: End arrests of activists and continue aid after Cyclone Nargis

Amnesty International today called on international donors, who are meeting in Bangkok this week, to pressurise the Burmese authorities to end harassment of activists trying to help survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

In late October, the Burmese authorities arrested at least 10 political activists and journalists for accepting relief donations from abroad. Their whereabouts are unknown and it is not clear whether any charges have been brought against them.

The 10 – whom Amnesty International considers prisoners of conscience – were among at least 41 dissidents arrested last month as part of a broader crackdown by the Burmese government.

Of the 10, Seven are members of the local Lin Let Kye (“Shining Star”) programme, formed in May 2008 and devoted to relief and social activism: Ka Gyi, Zaw Gyi, Lai Ron, Shwe Moe, Aung Myat Kyaw Thu, Paing Soe Oo, and Thant Zin Soe, who is also the editor of Foreign Affairs Weekly. They were all arrested in late October.

Three others who had made donations to humanitarian efforts, Thet Ko, Myint Thein, and Min Min, were also arrested.

Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Burma Researcher, said:

“The authorities are denying Nargis survivors assistance they desperately need and have a right to receive.

“More than 18 months after the cyclone, the survivors still require critical support from the international community.”

The most recent crackdown precedes Wednesday’s meeting of the ASEAN Tripartite Core Group (TCG), which was established in May 2008 to monitor, coordinate and facilitate international aid to areas hit by Cyclone Nargis. It comprises high-level representatives from ASEAN, the Burmese government, and the United Nations.

Extra funding is still needed to provide new houses, cyclone shelters, livelihood programmes, water and sanitation facilities, education facilities, and health services to hundreds of thousands of people in Burma.

The TCG’s three-year project for post-cyclone recovery efforts has a projected cost of £415m, but only £75m has been committed.

Zawacki added:

“Leaders meeting in Bangkok must ensure that the required aid is forthcoming and reaches those who need it.

“The international community should increase its donations and demand transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination in the distribution of aid.”

Cyclone Nargis struck Burma on 2-3 May 2008, and left 140,000 people dead or missing.

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