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Published: Tuesday, 5/13/2008

Myanmar cyclone victims getting low-quality supplies

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Master Sgt. Todd Kneisley, a 1992 graduate of Defiance High School, helps crewmen load relief supplies for Myanmar on a C-130 cargo plane at Utapao Air Base in Thailand. The supplies will be flown to neighboring Myanmar, which was devastated by a cyclone more than a week ago. Sergeant Kneisley, an aerial porter, lives in Guam with his wife and two children, Dan Kneisley, his father, a Defiance resident, said. Master Sgt. Todd Kneisley, a 1992 graduate of Defiance High School, helps crewmen load relief supplies for Myanmar on a C-130 cargo plane at Utapao Air Base in Thailand. The supplies will be flown to neighboring Myanmar, which was devastated by a cyclone more than a week ago. Sergeant Kneisley, an aerial porter, lives in Guam with his wife and two children, Dan Kneisley, his father, a Defiance resident, said.
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YANGON, Myanmar - Many cyclone victims are getting spoiled food from Myanmar's junta instead of the high-quality supplies being delivered by foreign governments and charities, victims and aid workers said Tuesday.

A longtime foreign resident of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, told The Associated Press in Bangkok by telephone that angry government officials have complained to him about the military misappropriating aid.

He said the officials told him that quantities of the high-energy biscuits rushed in on the World Food Program's first flights were sent to a military warehouse.

They were exchanged by what the officials said were "tasteless and low-quality" biscuits produced by the Industry Ministry to be handed out to cyclone victims, the foreign resident said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because identifying himself could jeopardize his safety.

He said it was not known if the high quality food was being sold on the black market or consumed by the military.

A government spokesman did not immediately respond to an e-mailed query from the AP seeking a comment. The allegations were impossible to confirm independently because of the massive restrictions imposed by the junta on journalists.

The military which has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1962 has taken control of most aid sent by other countries including the United States, which made its first aid delivery Monday and sent in another cargo plane Tuesday with 19,900 pounds of blankets, water and mosquito netting. A third flight was to take in a 24,750-pound load. U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Douglas Powell said that the situation remained fluid, but that flights were expected to continue after Tuesday which appears to broaden the original agreement for three flights on Monday and Tuesday.

Myanmar state television said navy commander in chief Rear Adm. Soe Thein told Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Forces, that basic needs of the storm victims are being fulfilled and that "skillful humanitarian workers are not necessary."

The U.N. said that the World Food Program is getting in 20 percent of the food needed because of bottlenecks, logistics problems and government-imposed restrictions.

CARE Australia's country director in Myanmar, Brian Agland, said members of his local staff brought back some of the rotting rice that's being distributed in the devastated Irawaddy Delta.

"I have a small sample in my pocket, and it's some of the poorest quality rice we've seen," he said. "It's affected by salt water and it's very old."

It's unclear whether the rice, which is dark gray in color and consists of very small grains, is coming from the government or from mills in the area or warehouses hit by the cyclone.

"Certainly, we are concerned that (poor quality rice) is being distributed," Agland said by telephone from Yangon. "The level of nutrition is very low."

Many survivors also said they were either not getting any aid or were being handed rotten, moldy rice.

"There is obviously still a lot of frustration that this aid effort hasn't picked up pace" 10 days after the cyclone hit, said Richard Horsey, the spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian operation in Bangkok, the capital of neighboring Thailand.

Still, the WFP said it had not heard of its supplies disappearing.

"We've had no reports whatsoever about any incidents of this kind," Marcus Prior, a WFP spokesman, said in Bangkok.

Cyclone Nargis devastated the delta on May 2-3, leaving about 62,000 people dead or missing according to the government count. The U.N. has suggested the death toll is likely to be more than 100,000.

With their homes washed away and large tracts of land under water, some 2 million survivors, mostly poor rice farmers, are living in abject misery, facing disease and starvation.

The survivors are packed into Buddhist monasteries or camping in the open, drinking water contaminated by fecal matter, with dead bodies and animal carcasses floating around. Food and medicine are scarce.

The foreign resident also said several businessmen have been told to give the government cash donations of no less than $1,800 each to aid cyclone victims.

Companies involved have included jade mining concerns in Hpakant, restaurants and construction companies in Yangon, he said.

The government has also barred nearly all foreigners experienced in managing such catastrophes from going to the delta west of Yangon, and is expelling those who have managed to go in.

Jean-Sebastien Matte, an emergency coordinator with Doctors Without Borders, said his foreign staff have repeatedly been forced to return to Yangon from the delta.

Armed police checkpoints were set up outside Yangon on the roads to the delta, and all foreigners were being sent back by policemen who took down their names and passport numbers.

"No foreigners allowed," a policeman said Tuesday after waving a car back.

Yangon was pounded by heavy rain Monday and more downpours were expected throughout the week, further hindering aid deliveries.

For many, the rainwater was the only source of clean drinking water.

European Union nations appealed to Myanmar's military leaders Tuesday to let in international aid to cyclone victims, saying that failing to do so could amount to a crime against humanity.

"At this moment the most important objective is to get the humanitarian aid inside the country. There are many people that are suffering and therefore to help them ... we have to use all the means to help those people," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters ahead of special EU talks meant to coordinate aid efforts for Myanmar.



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