Death and destruction visit another S.E. Asian country

Another impoverished nation has felt Mother Nature’s fury, and once again the people in power bear responsibility for the tens of thousands of deaths and injuries.

Indeed, the refusal of the ruling junta in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, to initially tell the truth about the fatalities should put the international community on notice.

Without the assistance of the United States and other developed countries, the poor people of Myanmar could face another disaster — this one man made.

First Lady Laura Bush, who held a news conference Monday to draw attention to the 2 million people victimized by Cyclone Nargis, made it clear that the Myanmar government must accept the offer of aid from the U.S.

“Americans are a compassionate people and we’re already acting to provide help,” Mrs. Bush said. “The U.S. has offered financial assistance through our embassy. We’ll work with the U.N. and other international nongovernmental organizations to provide water, sanitation, food and shelter. More assistance will be forthcoming.”

The first lady, obviously speaking for the Bush administration, called on the government in Yangon to accept the assistance team “quickly.”

She also voiced concern that many of Myanmar’s citizens learned a major cyclone was headed toward the country when foreign outlets, such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, sounded the alarm.

“Although they were aware of the threat, Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path,” Mrs. Bush said.

The administration’s criticism of the ruling military junta is justified, given the way those in power have virtually destroyed a once wealthy nation. Today, Myanmar has the lowest per capita GDP in Southeast Asia.

Help sought

It is encouraging, however, that government leaders have requested help from the United Nations and countries that are willingness to send aid.

That may well be because they realize that their failure to adequately prepare the populace for the 120 miles an hour winds that caused tidal waves that destroyed coastal villages and claimed at least 22,000 lives could cause a backlash on Saturday.

That’s when voters will go to the polls and decide on a constitutional referendum. Even though the government has orchestrated the vote to legitimize its continued rule, the devastation caused by the cyclone could trigger a public unrising.

Violation of human rights, repression of the opposition, a crackdown of free speech and assembly have become the junta’s stock-in-trade and have resulted in the U.S. and other democracies demands an end to the heavy-handed governance.

While the ouster of Myanmar’s government is justified, the immediate priority is to take care of the hundreds of thousands of people who have no shelter, fresh water, food or medicine.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The suppression of pro-democracy parties, such as the one led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung, San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for almost 12 of the past 18 years, has made the government a global pariah.

Nonetheless, humanitarian assistance must be provided for the victims of the natural disaster. These are people who had so little in the first place.

The rising death toll is a reminder of the December 2004 tsunami, which killed 181,000 in Indonesia, Thailand and other parts of Southeast and South Asia.

Those countries still have not fully recovered.

The people of Myanmar face an uncertain future.

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