Friday, June 13, 2008

Report: Junta distributed land soon after Myanmar cyclone

Just seven days after Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar last month, the ruling military junta parceled out key sections of the affected...

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Just seven days after Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar last month, the ruling military junta parceled out key sections of the affected Irrawaddy Delta to favored tycoons and firms, including some facing sanctions from the U.S. Treasury, according to a Myanmar magazine with close ties to the government.

Some of the most notorious business execs, including Tay Za and Steven Law, also known as Tun Myint Naing, were given control of "reconstruction and relief" in critical townships, under the leadership of top generals.

Treasury identified Tay Za as a "regime henchman" this year when it sanctioned hotel enterprises and other businesses he owns.

All told, more than 30 firms and 30 execs are to divide up the business in 11 townships hit by Nargis, the report said.

The document is dated May 9, a time when the United Nations, aid groups and many countries were trying to reach areas affected by the storm, which killed as many as 130,000 people and left 2.5 million homeless. Despite promises of greater openness, Myanmar's rulers have continued to impose restrictions on relief, according to reports from the region.

The document, which includes the cellphone numbers of many execs, appeared in the weekly Voice, a journal published by Nay Win Maung. A translation was provided by BIT Team, an India-based group that tries to promote information technology in the xenophobic country.

Nay Win Maung, the son of a military officer, was raised among Myanmar's military elites, giving him good connections, and his magazines can access government-related news and exclusive information.

"The Treasury is targeting the regime's cronies, and the regime wants its cronies to get the money," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Efforts to reach Law or Myanmar representatives in Washington on Thursday were unsuccessful.

While some of the execs awarded contracts are known to human-rights activists and financial-crime experts, others are less prominent, making the document a possible guide to the individuals now in favor with the junta.

The government estimated it needed more than $11 billion in reconstruction aid shortly after the May 2-3 cyclone hit.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is rich in natural resources, but much of the country is poor. The junta has enriched itself with natural-gas fields that bring in $2 billion annually, as well as trade in jewels, heroin, amphetamines, timber and small arms.

Some of the conglomerates given business in the delta, such as Law's Asia World and Tay Za's Htoo Trading, were also tasked with building the country's new capital at Naypyidaw, more than 200 miles from the old capital of Yangon. With little notice three years ago, the junta uprooted the capital to a remote area, requiring massive construction of new government buildings, hotels and housing.

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