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MYANMAR: Myanmar people get little news about tragedy

Military regime says 17 villages wiped out and 34 killed, but aid agencies say 90 people have died

The Straits Times
Friday, December 31, 2004

By Lee Kim Chew

As the death toll in Asian countries hit by the tsunamis continues to mount, little is known about the fate of people in the Irrawaddy delta and Tenasserim region, Myanmar's coastal areas swamped by Sunday's killer waves.

According to the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the military regime's mouthpiece, 17 villages were destroyed, 200 people made homeless, 34 killed, 45 injured and 25 missing.

Its Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Major-General Sein Htwa, visited the afflicted southern coastal areas on Tuesday.

But, apart from brief reports of the tsunamis in the official media, Myanmar people have received scarcely any news about the staggering tragedy that has hit their neighbours.

Much of the updates about Myanmar's casualties came instead from aid agencies Unicef and the Red Cross in Yangon, which put the death toll at 90.

Yangon's junta does not allow any reporting of natural calamities. Last July, floods in Kachin state killed 50 people. The person who filmed the floods was arrested, said a source.

In May, a cyclone hit Arakan state, the worst in 40 years. Some 220 people were killed and 1,400 others were made homeless. The regime kept things under wraps for two weeks before finally appealing for international aid.

In this light, Myanmar's casualties from Sunday's tsunami could be worse than reported officially, a source told The Straits Times.

Thus far, there is nothing in Yangon to suggest that Myanmar's coastal population suffered massive casualties. Few in Yangon are talking about it because the capital itself is unscathed.

The regime's top leaders have sent messages of sympathy to the countries badly affected by the tragedy and have not appealed for international aid.

In Bangkok yesterday, seismologists said they recorded two earthquakes in Myanmar in the morning, but neither would spark a tidal wave. They said one measured 5.4 on the Richter scale and a second was of 5.6 magnitude, Agence France-Presse reported.

An official said no tsunami warning was issued because the quakes happened far inland.

Asia Institute