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What's going on in Burma?



Published: Fri, January 7, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Providence Journal: A look at the map makes it seem obvious: In the tsunami that devastated the lands around the Indian Ocean, Burma (or Myanmar) must have suffered serious damage and loss of life. Yet the country, which juts into the sea north of Thailand and east of India and Bangladesh, reports just 53 deaths in the historic cataclysm.

If that figure seems amazingly low for an event that has so far claimed an estimated 155,000 lives, the reason is simple: Burma is a military dictatorship, and it would hardly be surprising if the reclusive generals who run the country are suppressing the truth.

Suspicious activity

Indeed -- even as the generals insist that damage and casualties were minimal and that Burma's beaches again hold happy tourists -- they have sealed off large sections of the coastline. In the past, foreign visitors were discouraged from traveling around Burma, but now non-Burmese journalists and aid workers have been outright banned -- and any Burmese person suspected of exposing suffering and loss of life faces a long prison sentence. This is especially disturbing because there are many Burmese islands near Thailand's Phuket peninsula and India's Nicobar island chain, which suffered considerable loss of life.

Meanwhile, as Burma's neighbors have gratefully accepted help in the international rescue operation, the Burmese government has declined nearly all offers of aid. As far as is known, Burma has accepted only a tiny contribution: less than $200,000, from China. The tragedy, of course, is that thousands of people probably desperately in need of help will never get it, thanks to the inhumanity of their rulers.




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