Burma's (Myanmar's) elite help with aid
Business leaders, some under US sanction, are delivering relief supplies.
While international aid groups and world leaders have been clamoring for greater access or accusing the government of Burma (Myanmar) of neglecting cyclone victims, the junta has effectively parceled out areas of the disaster zone to the country's corporate leaders.Skip to next paragraph
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They are a "who's who" of Burma's business class: powerful execs with close ties to the ruling military junta, some of them under Western sanctions for that reason.
Despite those connections – indeed, because they have enabled these men to distribute badly needed relief – foreign aid workers in Burma, their own efforts inhibited by the junta, are partnering with these businessmen-turned-relief workers.
"They've been doing a lot of good things. They have a lot of assets, and they've been putting it to good use," he says. "We've been coordinating at various levels to reach as many people as possible."
Burma's power class
A week after the May 2-3 cyclone Nargis left an estimated 134,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million more affected, the government put out a call asking business leaders to volunteer for relief operations, says James Kong, a Hong Kong-based surgeon and former head of Rangoon's Pun Hlaing International Hospital, who has returned to help his native Burma.
Some of them are under Western sanctions. Others hold foreign passports, work with business leaders across Asia, and have publicly listed companies on Asian markets.
On May 12, a number of executives formed the Cape Negrais Committee, named after the site where the cyclone first slammed into southern Burma's Irrawaddy Delta.
The team has so far helped 45,000 to 75,000 people on Middle Island, one of their areas of operation in the delta, says Mark Tippetts, an Englishman and longtime Burma resident who oversees the Pun Hlaing golf course, a favorite haunt of Burma's elite.
The hard-to-reach delta is where many of the more than one million people who have yet to receive aid are located, according to the United Nations.
Htoo Trading, led by young entrepreneur Tay Za, is operating in the delta's Bogale area. Tay Za came under US economic sanctions last October when President Bush tightened restrictions on ranking members of Burma's ruling junta and associated business groups.