MPs: Halt Burma aid

Aung San Suu Kyi still imprisoned in Burma
Aung San Suu Kyi still imprisoned in Burma

Humanitarian aid to Burma should be halted unless the country's military rulers stop abusing it, the government has been told.

An influential committee of MPs claims further use of funds for anything other than relief by the Burmese junta should lead ministers to consider invoking their "responsibility to protect" to the south-east Asian country's population.

The warning comes almost three months after Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, killing 138,000 people and leaving a further 2.5 million displaced.

Its military rulers came under intense pressure to permit international aid, but the flow of supplies and experienced personnel into the country was painfully slow.

There have also been accusations aid was being diverted towards the army and away from the hundreds of thousands of people in dire need of relief in the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region.

The UK has sent £45 million-worth of aid to Burma since the May 2nd storm, more than any other single international donor.

But in their response to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's annual human rights report, the foreign affairs committee urges the government to consider its policies.

Noting the "reprehensible" abuse of human rights and civil liberties in Burma, its members write: "We recommend that the government should put in place very strict measures to ensure that its aid cannot be misused by the regime, and inform us of these measures in its response to this report.

"We further recommend that, in principle, the government should not rule out invoking the 'responsibility to protect' in situations such as Burma, but that this should be guided by a practical assessment of the situation on the ground, and the likely wider consequences of such intervention."

Aid workers have warned however of the devastating effect of cutting off aid to Burma, one of the world's poorest countries.

Save the Children told Burma was "one of the most under-funded, not-on-the-radar emergencies in the world" even prior to Cyclone Nargis.

A spokesperson said the charity had managed to reach 650,000 people in Burma through its 1,000 strong group of mostly-Burmese workers.

"We've been working in Burma for 30 years; we've proven that aid can be effective," the representative explained.

"We base our decisions purely on need on who needs it and the people of Burma need help."

Save the Children is calling on world leaders "not to turn their backs" on the children of Burma, comparing the impact of Cyclone Nargis to the devastation wrought by the Boxing Day tsunami.

Cyclone Nargis was not the first time the notoriously secret Burmese junta had been thrust on to the global news agenda in the past 12 months.

Last autumn a wave of popular protests were witnessed in the country's largest cities in the greatest challenge to military rule since the crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988.

The protests, which were led by Buddhist monks, were sparked by a 500 per cent increase in the price of natural gas, announced by the government in August last year.

Support for the junta, which assumed power in 1962, is now at an all-time low following its limited response to the cyclone.

But regional experts have told it could take decades for any challenge to the senior generals to materialise.

In its annual human rights report, the FCO noted the junta's persistent violations were at the heart of the country's political, economic and social problems.

"The Burmese regime may continue to be indifferent to the suffering of the Burmese people, but the UK, and the world, remain concerned," the report states.


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