Myanmar must end arrests of activists and continue aid after Cyclone Nargis
International donors meeting in Bangkok this week should pressure the Myanmar authorities to end harassment of activists trying to help survivors of Cyclone Nargis, and ensure sufficient aid reaches those affected, Amnesty International said on Tuesday. In late October, the Myanmar authorities arrested at least 10 political activists and journalists for accepting relief donations from abroad, sources inside the country told Amnesty International. Their whereabouts is unknown and it is not clear whether any charges have been brought against them. The ten —whom Amnesty International considers prisoners of conscience— were among at least 41 dissidents arrested last month as part of a broader crackdown by the Myanmar government. "The authorities are denying Nargis survivors assistance they desperately need and have a right to receive," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar Researcher. The most recent crackdown precedes the 25 November meeting of the ASEAN Tripartite Core Group (TCG), which was established in May 2008 to monitor, coordinate and facilitate international aid to areas hit by Cyclone Nargis. It comprises high-level representatives from ASEAN, the Myanmar government, and the United Nations. "More than 18 months after the cyclone, the survivors still require critical support from the international community," said Zawacki. Extra funding is still needed to provide new houses, cyclone shelters, livelihood programmes, water and sanitation facilities, education facilities, and health services to hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar, international agencies say. The TCG's three-year project for post-cyclone recovery efforts has a projected cost of US$691 million, but only $125 million has been committed. "Leaders meeting in Bangkok must ensure that the required aid is forthcoming and reaches those who need it," Zawacki said. "The international community should increase its donations and demand transparency, accountability, and non-discrimination in the distribution of aid." Seven people arrested in late October are members of the local Lin Let Kye (Shining Star) programme, formed in May 2008 and devoted to relief and social activism: Ka Gyi, Zaw Gyi, Lai Ron, Shwe Moe, Aung Myat Kyaw Thu, Paing Soe Oo, and Thant Zin Soe, who is also the editor of Foreign Affairs Weekly. Three others who had made donations to humanitarian efforts, Thet Ko, Myint Thein, and Min Min, were also arrested. Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on 2 and 3 May 2008, and left 140,000 people dead or missing. In October the US pledged to fund US$10 million through international NGOs for Nargis-related recovery programs, while the EU committed to funding 35 million Euros (US$51.5 million) for the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust (LIFT) fund, aimed at improving human security in Myanmar. Funds of US$326 million have been committed so far in the original 2008 Myanmar Flash Appeal, out of the US$477 million requested.