Written by U Ne Oo on 2005-09-21
As of recent, there were some debate among democracy supporters about an urgent need for humanitarian assistance in Burma. This debate, notably, followed after BBC reported on 6 September 2005 that student leaders inside Burma issued a statement calling for international assistance on health and education.
It has long been recognized, especially by the exile pro-democracy groups, about Burma's dire need for humanitarian assistance. Basically, there had been voluminous reports about humanitarian situation in Burma, suggesting that the international community must focus its priority in this area of health and education. Of course, if the right conditions exist, significant many potential international donors -- from both government and non-government sector -- that are willing to assist Burmese people. Rather sadly, the Burmese people are still unable to enjoy such potential generosity because of the restrictive conditions imposed by the military junta.
BE AWARE OF SPINS/MANIPULATIONS
Generally speaking, the issue of humanitarian assistance has the potential to be abused by both military government and opposition groups. If we look at the global levels, Saddam Hussein regime, for example, had tried to manipulate international opinion over the dire need of humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. There were some indication that the Saddam regime had exploited UN Oil-For-Food Program (1996-2003) -- a program which designed to provide the purchase of humanitarian needs for the Iraqi people -- to rescind economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.
Apart from this horrible Saddam Example, I would just point out few issues in recent debate, on the areas which we need to be looking at in resolving current crisis:
1. MEDIA BLURRING LINES BETWEEN ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AND HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
Most pro-democracy groups (exiles & inside) are no-doubt favoring economic sanction against military junta. However, all pro-democracy groups are of the view that the international donors should provide humanitarian assistance (in health & education sectors) directly to those Burmese who are in need.
In particular, the National League for Democracy had emphatically stated they will have no-objection if the humanitarian assistance go directly to the needies (I need to find a relevant NLD statement, which I am sure NLD issued few years back).
This does not stop from Kyodo News from "spinning" the NLD had opposed to the humanitarian aid "implicitly". What we - the pro-democracy groups -- must say loud and clear is that the NLD "explicitly" approved the international humanitarian assistance which directly benefit the Burmese people. Such assistance, coming in which ever forms, must not benefit the military junta.
The spinners from Kyodo News are trying to confuse the terms between "international humanitarian assistance (aid)" and "international aid". Of course, these two are not one and the same thing.
2. CO-OPERATING WITH MILITARY/USDA ??
Another important issue was the co-operation from military junta. The best co-operation the junta can give, at this point in time, is to allow the international organizations the freedom they need to gather information and prepare for assistance.
It has been our previous experience that the junta in Burma do not allow gathering of such an information, citing security reasons. For example, a typical NGO may want the information about Rangoon General Hospital: details about the numbers of patient in attendance, type of medicines the patients may require etc .. Will the junta allow the NGOs to collect such data ? I doubt it.
Another example: The foreign NGO workers may wish to travel frontier areas, where HIV/AIDS infections were more prevalent. Will the junta allow such NGO workers to travel and collect information freely ? I very much doubt it.
POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT: NONE OR ALL? NONE IS BETTER.
When implementing the projected humanitarian assistance, the non-government entities are the best suited for its purpose. Traditionally, there is lack of of such organization within Burma. However, things can be changed for the better. The existing United Nations and International humanitarian organizations, Church groups, Parent/Teacher Associations, Dahmma/Gawpaka and Student Welfare, or even Local Neighborhood Associations may be formed to function.
To be clearly noted here: the now defunct "Myanmar Women Medical Association", for example, was not to be considered as a 'non-government' organization. So too, "Myanmar Red Cross and Red Crescent" nor the "Union Solidarity and Development Association". This is because these organizations all worked under strict control of the junta.
In short, the military junta must not exert political control over any of the organizations working for the humanitarian projects.
Existing political entities, such as Union Solidarity and Development Organization and National League for Democracy, on a long-short and in the future, may have some role to play. However, the conditions don't seems to be rights at this point in time. On the question of whether political entities should be involved in such operations, none should be involved.
WHAT ARE THE RIGHT CONDITIONS
In sum, the followings suggest the right conditions for international humanitarian assistance to Burma:
1. Within Burma the grass-roots people can form and function their local non-government organizations, without being interfered by the military;
2. The international NGOs and Local NGOs can exchange the information freely without being restricted by the military government;
3. Ensure that the 'transparency', 'accountability' and 'political neutrality' must be observed by all organizations which engaged in the humanitarian assistance to Burma.
Without these conditions, neither Burmese people nor their potential donors will be achieving the goal of improvement to humanitarian situation in Burma.
Regards, U Ne Oo.
RELATED NEWS ITEMS:
NLD has no objection to international aid to Burma
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)
September 16, 2005
The National League for Democracy (NLD) has reacted vehemently to a report of a Japanese news agency which suggested that the NLD had objected to humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people. A NLD spokesperson, U Nyan Win, denied what the news report had to say.
They have reported that the NLD had objected to the call for international aid. I would like to state that the news agency did not care to read our statement issued yesterday carefully. Their report is contrary to our statement," U Nyan Win told Mizzima.
In the news report the Kyodo News Agency on September 15 said that NLD "implicitly rejected" the call given by student leaders asking for international aid.
NLD cited excerpts from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's press briefing held on May 6, 2002 in its statement. In her press briefing, Ms. Suu Kyi had said, "Economic sanctions are meant to pressurize for the achievement of the democratic goal in the country. We must see the long term interest of the people rather than short term interests."
She had said: We must sit together for a dialogue to resolve the current crisis. Everything will be resolved when we have a dialogue with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). We can respond to all the questions on economic sanctions when we have a dialogue with SPDC."
"We issued yesterday's statement to publicize our position on sanctions by citing excerpts from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's press briefing, U Nyan Win added.
U Nyan Win said the NLD's position on sanctions and humanitarian assistance is identical to the call given by the 88-generation student leaders led by Ko Min Ko Naing.
07 September, 2005 Students say they act to stop crisis
Former students leaders who urged the government and democracy activists to cooperate in getting humanitarian aid said they acted to stop the dire situation in the country.
They also denied the SPDC played any role in their statement.
In an interview with BBC Burmese, Min Ko Naing says, "We want to make absolutely clear that we have not make any agreements with the government."
The group, calling themselves the 88-generation student leaders, had said on Tuesday only international assistance can resolve the health and education crisis faced by the Burmese public.
National reconciliation still a priority
Min Ko Naing adds this does not mean they are giving up hope of a political change in the country.
"We have talked about it since we come out (of the prison). We are not going to let the aim of national reconciliation out of our sight."
But the current problems have reached national levels, he says, and is worse in border areas and remote places, usually populated by ethnic minorities.
While some observers are sceptical about the calls, Professor David Steinberg from Georgetown University and an expert on Burma, says the call is "significant" and "certainly needed."
"This breaks with what seems to have been established in the practices of not cooperating with the military on (humanitarian assistance)."
It also runs counter to politicians and activists abroad, including the NLD, which has supported economic sanctions.
Factionalised groups in Burma
Prof. Steinberg notes, "Both the government and the opposition and all groups inside Burma are quite factionalised so anytime anybody does anything that is slightly different from the established political line, they are accused of all kinds of nefarious activities. That is unfortunate."
For student leaders like Min Ko Naing, the first step is to create the right environment within the country that will satisfy donor countries and encourage them to come in.
Prof. Steinberg believes this is a good opportunity for the SPDC to portray themselves in a good light. But he is not confident the offer will be taken up.
"If the government is prepared to deal with international NGOs and with other governments in the EU... I think this would be a positive step. But I'm not sure the government is prepared to do this."
Unless the government takes advantage of the offer, the international community will not come in, he says.
"I think in the interest of the Burmese people, something should be done to try and open up the country to better health and education."
BBC News - 06 September, 2005
Burmese groups call for humanitarian aid
Burmese groups have called for the international community to provide humanitarian aid to Burma "at this very critical moment."
Well-known student leader Min Ko Naing released a statement on Tuesday inviting the Burmese government, United Nations organisations, donor countries, NGOs within Burma and abroad, and independent humanitarian organisations to work with them and resolve the impending healthcare and education crisis.
International assistance essential
The group, calling themselves the 88-generation student leaders - referring to the 1988 uprising which killed thousands of people - said only international cooperation and humanitarian aid will resolve the problems effectively.
Min Ko Naing also called Burma "one of the least developed countries" and urged the military government and democracy activists to reach a compromise urgently.
He emphasised the need for "impartial, open, transparent and accurate" procedures to ensure aid reaches to those who need it most - a charge the Global Fund made for quitting Burma - and said it is the responsibility of the host country to provide a suitable and effective environment.
Government failed citizens
The Democratic Federation of Burma made similar calls on Monday. The New-York based exiled organisation said international support is needed in light of the regime's "failure to provide political and social stability for its citizens."
It said tuberculosis, malaria and other infected diseases are threatening the entire society.
DFB also said the Global Fund's decision last month to withdraw grants totalling US$100 million citing government restrictions, is not "appropriate."
It added that "the situation is running out of control and the military would not be accountable on public health issues while they focus on their own interests ."
According to the Global Fund, Burma is the second most affected country in terms of HIV/AIDS in South East Asia after Thailand, has one of the highest rates oftuberculosis worldwide and 71% of the population is under risk from Malaria.