In Burma, a frustrated quiet
Without aid coming along Burma's Asian Highway, Burmese head east to find help.
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Three US ships are expected near the coast soon. A French naval ship is also on standby.Skip to next paragraph
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But aid workers remained frustrated with the slow pace and lack of visas being issued, even as a major operation was being organized to provide aid on the level of the 2004 tsunami. The World Food Program said it had only 10 percent of the staff and equipment it needed inside Burma, severely hampering its ability to move aid.
UN officials said that seven Burmese military helicopters were running between Rangoon west to Pathein, a staging area. The junta is also using small boats and two larger ships to deliver aid, they said.
Openness in Myawaddy
There was an unusually open and friendly atmosphere in Myawaddy on Monday, with little overt presence of uniformed police or military. That was in sharp contrast to the soldiers who came out in force to urge people to vote yes in the referendum last Saturday,
Immigration officials at the Thai border were hospitable, and truck drivers criticized the regime in front of the border post. A rickshaw driver wore a khaki tank top saying "US Army," while a soldier in a green military hat wore a vest saying "US military." Many locals said they had hope for change when they saw US helicopters flying near the border over the weekend.
An elderly silver-haired man, Htay Myint, immediately began to criticize the ruling junta in loud voice in English outside a golden temple. "Are you a journalist? I was a journalist too," he said. "Spies are following us, but I don't care. Burmese people want you to tell the world that we need your help. Many people here have lost relatives in the delta. But the military government does not let us go to the cyclone area. They have no procedures to send supplies or staff such as doctors and nurses. In our own country, we don't have the right to go from this place to that place. What a pity."
Mr. Myint, who quit his post as a township official in Kachin state and fled to Myawaddy several years ago, says Burmese people are more desperate for change than ever before. With little access to foreign media, they don't believe the reports on Myanmar state TV of generals helping cyclone victims. "Yesterday was lieing. Today is lying. Tomorrow will be lying," he says in good English. "The government is not delivering the aid to victims. They have no etiquette. They are not educated. They have no ability to help. Aid will never reach the victims. The local authorities will take it, believe me. I know what they are. They must allow foreigners to come in. But they are afraid foreigners will send out true information."
Myint says Myawaddy would become a boomtown if foreign aid passed through here, the shortest route between Thailand and Yangon. But Monday, few people were seen shopping in the main market and in the hundreds of family-owned shops along the Asian Highway. Hit with rising fuel prices, people keep motorbikes inside. Lacking work, young males play billiards on street-side tables, while women with cheeks smeared in thanaka bark watch TV or crowd around shops with public phones, trying to contact relatives. New construction projects, such as the Starlight Hotel, remain unfinished.
Myint said the cost of an egg in Myawaddy has doubled since the cyclone.
"It's very bad now," he says. "Next year, there will be no rice at all growing in Irrawaddy division. We can't trust to get rice from Yangon authority. We have to depend on rice from Thailand."
• Wire material was used.