Saturday, October 18, 2008

Aid groups blast ASEAN-led report on Myanmar relief effort

JAKARTA (AFP) – A coalition of humanitarian groups heavily criticised Thursday a report on Myanmar's cyclone disaster, saying it glossed over the junta's obstruction of aid and human rights abuses.

The Burma Partnership, which represents 19 aid organisations, released an "alternative" report to provide what it said was a more accurate picture of the response to Cyclone Nargis, which left 138,000 people dead or missing in May.

"When we studied the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment report prepared by the UN, ASEAN and the Burmese regime, we realised that it failed to describe the obstruction of aid and human rights abuses committed by the military regime in the areas affected by the cyclone," Khin Ohmar of the Burma Partnership told a press conference.

"As independent civil society organisations, we felt the need to tell the other side of the post-Nargis story."

The generals ruling Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, drew international outrage by refusing to allow a foreign-led aid response in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

But they dropped their resistance after coaxing from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chief Surin Pitsuwan.

The official joint report was released to much fanfare at an ASEAN conference in Singapore in July.

But Ohmar said it failed to highlight issues such as blocking and misappropriation of aid and substandard treatment of survivors at relief camps.

It omitted cases of human rights violations such as orphans turned into child soldiers, survivors forced to do reconstruction work and farm land confiscated by the military regime, she said.

The coalition's recommendations include an independent system to monitor aid distribution and for all relief agencies to make public their activities.

"We hope international governments will consider using the new report to ensure funding reaches people who need the most help and that the recovery process will be implemented with the most transparency and accountability," Ohmar said.

Thai MP and coalition member Kraisak Choonhavan criticised Surin for failing to meet the organisers to discuss the alternative report.

He said he felt "let down" by Surin's late cancellation of a meeting in Jakarta, home to the ASEAN secretariat.

"They did not give any reason for cancelling. I feel let down and it makes it necessary for us to be more vocal. I am very disappointed," he said.

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