(AFP) – May 30, 2008
YANGON (AFP) — Myanmar's ruling junta lashed out at foreign aid donors Friday, saying cyclone victims did not need supplies of "chocolate bars" and could instead survive by eating frogs and fish.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a government mouthpiece, also warned that foreign relief workers could snoop inside homes, and condemned donors for linking aid money to full access to the hardest-hit regions in the Irrawaddy Delta.
The tirade came as the junta tightened its political grip on the country, extending democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest and announcing that its new constitution has been enacted.
The regime says the charter will pave the way for democratic elections in two years, but dissidents say it will enshrine military rule in a country ruled by generals since 1962.
In Washington, the White House said the new constitution lacked credibility. "I don't think that the junta's constitution holds a lot of water," said spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Despite the statements in Myanmar's official media, aid agencies say they have had some success in receiving visas and getting access to the delta, which suffered the brunt of the May 2-3 storm that left 133,000 dead or missing.
An assessment team from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was set to arrive in Yangon on Friday to determine how best to help the 2.4 million survivors in desperate need of food, shelter and medicine.
But the UN's disaster response arm OCHA said access remained patchy, especially for private charities.
"Sometimes there are hindrances, sometimes not," Terje Skavdal, OCHA's regional director, told a press conference. "Some of the larger NGOs seem to have a problem, but it's not a clear picture."
After several days of praising the work of the United Nations and charities, the regime's official newspaper renewed its attacks on foreign aid and insisted Myanmar could survive without outside help.
"The government and the people are like parents and children," the paper said. "We, all the people, were pleased with the efforts of the government."
Myanmar needs 11 billion dollars to recover from the storm, but donors have pledged just 150 million dollars so far, it said.
"Myanmar people are capable enough of rising from such natural disasters even if they are not provided with international assistance," the newspaper said.
"Myanmar people can easily get fish for dishes by just fishing in the fields and ditches," the paper said. "In the early monsoon, large edible frogs are abundant."
"The people (of the Irrawaddy delta) can survive with self-reliant efforts even if they are not given chocolate bars from (the) international community," it added.
No aid agencies are known to have provided chocolate bars to victims of Cyclone Nargis.
The United Nations estimates that about one million people in the delta are still without emergency aid.
The military regime drew international outrage for three weeks of delays in allowing foreign aid workers access to the delta region, although the United Nations said Thursday that all of its staff had now been granted visas.
The official newspaper also took a swipe at a world monetary organisation for refusing to give aid -- apparently a reference to the World Bank, which has said no loans could be given because Myanmar has not been repaying its debts.
It also criticised countries for maintaining sanctions on the regime despite the cyclone devastation.
"Do such countries really have humanitarian spirit?" the paper said.
It was apparently referring to the United States, which renewed sanctions on the regime two weeks after the storm, accusing the military junta of suppressing the pro-democracy movement.
The United States has insisted the sanctions will not affect humanitarian aid, which US military planes have helped deliver into the country.
Late Friday the prime minister of Singapore, which currently chairs the 10-member ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member, criticised the junta's reaction to the aid offered.
"Myanmar's partners in ASEAN have all been deeply concerned by the massive suffering of the victims, which a more rapid international relief operation could have minimised," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a keynote address to a regional security forum in Singapore.
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