Thursday, May 22, 2008

Burma’s junta criticized in Friends of Burma Festival

On 20 May, at 15:00 to 22:00, thousands of people from different organizations, collectively calling themselves as "Friends of Burma" celebrated a fund raising festival for victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma and talked about the future of those, at the Convention Center, Chiangmai University, Chiangmai, northern Thailand.

By Hseng Khio Fah

Win Min, Chiangmai based Burmese scholar, said, "The junta ignored the cyclone warning from the neighboring countries. Right now, over 2 million people were killed and over 200,000 people were homeless. They did not care about the people, they just care for power. For instance, during the Tsunami in Indonesia, Jarkarta allowed everyone to come without visa. Had they followed the Indonesian lead, people would not have died as many."
"They don’t' have enough capacity and equipment. That's why it was so difficult for them to handle it smoothly. They thought that they could handle everything. Right now, it has become the most serious catastrophe in our history."

"In contrast, when the Thai people faced Tsunami, they had temporary shelters to stay, they received preliminary aid from everywhere. But it was so difficult for people in Burma to receive aid," said Dr. Chayan Watthanphuti.

"Some people from my village say living in a Thai jail is better than living in our home town. I am sure that people from Burma may come to Thai as migrants. There is no food to eat, no space to stay and cultivate in Burma. How can they live? They just have to seek asylum to its neighboring countries, especially Thailand," said a woman from Shan State.

"On behalf of our people in Burma, I would like to ask all Thai people and all of my friends to have understanding on our people," she concluded.

Friends of Burma Festival was organized by civil society groups in Chiangmai, Regional Center for Sustainable Development (RCSD), artist friends in Chiangmai, Non Government Organization Coordination Committee for Development in northern Thailand, Northern Youth Development Workers Network, Kabfai Community Theater Group and friends from different organizations that are working on Burma issues in Chiangmai.

Thailand Raises Money for Cyclone Victims

Thai activists, public sector groups and the Buddhist community are raising funds for cyclone survivors in Burma.

Fund raising events are taking place in cities across Thailand, particularly in border provinces, often through the cooperation of Thai and Burmese monks and local residents, which include large numbers of Burmese refugees.

A fund raising display of simple relief supplies: iodine, powered milk, canned tomatoes, band-aids, hydrogen peroxide.
In addition, about 100 tons of donated relief supplies were transported from Mae Sot District to Myawaddy, Burma, on Wednesday in 10 Thai military trucks.

On Tuesday, a group of activists, artists and public sectors “Friends of Burma” staged a music festival and public forum at the Convention Center at Chiang Mai University to raise funds and awareness about human rights abuses and the needs of Cyclone Nargis survivors.

Win Min, a Burmese scholar based in Thailand, speaking at the forum, said the Burmese government failed to warn people adequately before the disaster and lacks the will and the means to help the survivors now.

“The Burmese military has never been trained to provide relief to the people. They’ve only been trained to shoot and kill,” he said.

Citizens and students of Chiang Mai, Thailand, view a display of information and photographs taken in the Irrawaddy delta.
Only a few countries in Asia have a military capable of handling disaster relief, he said, and experienced relief workers from Western countries are essential.

Nang Sripong, a representative of the Shan community in Chiang Mai, said the disaster will cause more migrants from Burma to flee poverty and enter Thailand.

“We ask the Thai people to understand the situation of the Burmese people and to provide donations to help the victims,” she said.

Preeda Kongpan, a Thai activist who worked with tsunami victims in Thailand in 2004, said, “The best thing we can do at the moment is donate and transport material to the survivors in small quantities with the cooperation of people inside Burma.”

On Wednesday, Noppadon Pattama, the Thai foreign minister, said Thailand will prepare Don Muang airport in Bangkok as an air transport base for United Nation aid shipments to Burma through the UN World Food Organization.