BURMA’S junta started evicting destitute families from government-run cyclone relief centres yesterday, apparently out of concern the “tented villages” might become permanent.
“It is better that they move to their homes where they are more stable,” a government official said at one camp where people have been told to clear out by 4 pm. “Here, they are relying on donations and it is not stable.”
Locals and aid workers said 39 camps in the immediate vicinity of Kyauktan, 30 km south of Rangoon, were being cleared out as part of a general eviction plan.
“We knew we had to go at some point but we had hoped for more support,” 21-year-old trishaw driver Kyaw Moe Thu said as he left the camp with his five brothers and sisters.
The youngest, a two-year-old girl named Moe Win Kyah, was sheltered by the others under a pair of black umbrellas.
They had been given 20 bamboo poles and some tarpaulins to help rebuild their lives in the Irrawaddy delta, where 134,000 people were left dead or missing by Cyclone Nargis on May 2.
“Right now, we are disappointed,” Kyaw Moe Thu said. “We were promised 30 poles by the government. They told us we will get rice each month, but right now we have nothing.”
Four weeks after the disaster, the UN says fewer than one-in-two of the 2.4 million people affected by the cyclone have received any form of help from either the government, or international or local aid groups.
Rumours are flying around the international aid community in Rangoon that the evictions are occurring in state-run refugee centres across the delta.
The UN, which has local and foreign aid workers in the delta, said it did not know if that was the case.
“We certainly don’t endorse premature return to where there are no services, and any forced or coerced movement is completely unacceptable,” UN spokeswoman Amanda Pitt said in Bangkok.
The evictions come a day after official media lashed out at offers of foreign aid, criticising donors’ demands for access to the delta and saying cyclone victims could “stand by themselves.”
“The people from Irrawaddy can survive on self-reliance without chocolate bars donated by foreign countries,” the Kyemon newspaper said in a Burmese-language editorial.
The media is tightly controlled by the army and is believed to reflect the thinking of the top generals, who until now have shown signs of growing, albeit grudging, acceptance of outside cyclone assistance.
Nearly a week after junta leader Than Shwe promised to allow in “all” legitimate foreign aid workers, 45 remaining UN visa requests had been approved on Wednesday, but red tape is still hampering access to the delta.
“It’s particularly important that the Red Cross and the international NGOs are granted timely, free and unfettered access to the delta,” Terje Skavdal, a UN humanitarian co-ordinator, told a news conference in the Thai capital.
He said it now took only two days for UN staff to get clearance for the delta, instead of two weeks, but other aid workers were still facing obstacles.
The government has said the rescue and relief effort is largely over and it is focused on reconstruction.
Around Kyauktan, authorities are moving displaced people out of schools ahead of the start of a new term in June. But aid workers said that could be delayed by a month in the delta.
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