Disaster may loosen junta's grip in Burma (Myanmar)
A May 10 poll could underscore how unpopular the regime is, as it slowly opens to foreign aid.
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"From the outside, we can see the junta has so many limitations. But this will be the first time that they will have to admit that they have limitations," says Pornpimon Trichot, of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. "[They] may realize ... you cannot only have strong men and advanced weapons."
Many analysts point to the referendum, which the government says will go ahead on May 10, except in 47 hard-hit townships, which will vote May 24. The Army drafted the constitution, saying it will devolve authority, but critics say the generals will retain their power monopoly. With resentment running high against the government, experts say many citizens could vote "no" and force the regime to make compromises with opposition groups.
Still, if protests could not shake them, a storm is unlikely to either, analysts say. "There were huge protests and that didn't weaken the regime. The regime has an apparatus to keep itself in power by coercion," says Tim Huxley, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia in Singapore.
But following Pakistan's deadly earthquake in 2005, an influx of foreign aid workers dramatically improved perceptions of the West and strengthened ties between the US and Pakistani military.
Burma's opening up to aid could open a door to more dialogue, experts say. "You could develop a long-term humanitarian program that opens up other forms of dialogue," says Charles Perry, of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis in Cambridge, Mass.
Analysts caution that the junta is too calculating not to see that foreign governments view the disaster as an opportunity. And there are no guarantees that, once they've received aid, the generals won't shut down again, analysts say.
But "the cyclone could trigger social unrest in Burma," says Zaw. "I do think there's going to be a political upheaval."
Aid for Burma
Cyclone Nargin's path of destruction through the Irrawaddy Delta has prompted offers of outside help for the people of Burma (Myanmar).
The following is a list of relief agencies around the world that have promised aid and technical support:
• United Nations has assembled a five-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team in Bangkok, Thailand. It also plans to release $10 million in emergency relief and launch an appeal to raise more. www.ochaonline.un.org
•UNICEF has field offices positioned throughout Burma. http://www.unicefusa.org/
•International Red Cross relief workers are distributing drinking water, clothing, food, plastic tarpaulins, and hygiene kits. www.icrc.org
• The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' emergency disaster fund released about $189,000. They have launched an emergency appeal for $5.9 million to support their current efforts. www.ifrc.org
• Myanmar Red Cross said it would allocate 5 billion kyats ($4.5 million) for relief and resettlement work. The organization is also distributing insecticide-treated bed nets to help prevent malaria.
• The American Red Cross has pledged $100,000 in funds and supplies. www.redcross.org
• World Vision Australia has pledged A$3 million ($2.8 million) for the first month of relief operations in Burma. About 25 health specialists are being sent to boost efforts of 600 permanent staff. www.worldvision.com.au
• Save the Children plans to distribute emergency relief supplies to children and families. www.savethechildren.org
• International Medical Corps is working with local organizations in Indonesia to deploy an emergency response team to Burma. www.imcworldwide.org
• Americares is delivering humanitarian supplies. www.americares.org
• GlobalGiving plans to provide grass-roots aid by funding projects in Burma. www.globalgiving.com
• Doctors Without Borders is distributing food, fuel, and plastic sheeting. www.doctorswithoutborders.org
• Direct Relief International has pledged support for Australian Aid International's emergency medical team. www.directrelief.org
•International Relief Teams plans to send tarps, tents, mosquito nets, water purification tablets, and food. www.irteams.org
•Operation USA plans to offer shelter, water purification, and healthcare supplies. www.opusa.org
•The ReliefWeb website offers a list of aid organizations. www.reliefweb.int
•Reuters AlertNet website also has a list of aid organizations. www.alertnet.org
•United States:$3 million to UN agencies, up from an initial $250,000.
•European Union:€2 million (US$3.1 million).
•China: US$1 million in aid, including relief materials worth $500,000.
•Norway:10 million kroner (US$1.96 million).
Sources: Reuters, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times