Sunday, June 8, 2008

Myanmar junta detains cyclone-affected "boat people" (Extra)

Bangkok - The Myanmar navy has arrested 65 people, including 15 children and 20 women, who attempted to flee the country's cyclone-hit Bogalay township, a Myanmar pro-democracy group said on Sunday.

The boat-load of people were arrested on June 2 near Zardatgyi Island west of Kawthaung town by Navy Ship No 517, according to the Network for Democracy and Development (NDD) group, which is based on the Thai-Myanmar border.

'They left Bogalay by boat on May 24 aiming to take refuge in refugee camps at Thai border,' the NDD said in a statement.

The 65 people had reportedly lost their belongings and homes in Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar's central coastal region on May 2-3, leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing.

One month after the storm, unknown thousands have yet to receive emergency aid, with many of them residing in remote coastal enclaves in the Irrawaddy delta, according to international aid workers.

'This is the first-time we heard that the cyclone victims take risks to leave their villages by boats like those from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the past,' said the NDD.

Millions of so-called 'boat people' fled Vietnam and Cambodia during after 1979, in the aftermath of a short Chinese invasion of Vietnam to teach Hanoi a lesson for invading Cambodia the same year to topple the pro-Beijing Khmer Rouge regime.

The resulting political turmoil prompted more than a million Sino-Vietnamese to flee southern Vietnam on flimsy boats to Thailand and other non-communist countries in South-east Asia, while a similar land and sea exodus occurred in Cambodia of people seeking to flee Khmer Rouge rule.

Myanmar, which has been under military dictatorships since 1962, has been the source of constant outflow of political and economic refugees since 1988, when the army cracked down on a pro-democracy movement in a massacre that claimed an estimated 3,000 lives and resulted in the imprisonment of thousands.

More than 1 million Burmese currently work in neighbouring Thailand as illegal or semi-illegal labourers, while hundreds of thousands reside in temporary border camps awaiting resettlement or a return of stability to their country.

Cyclone Nargis may now be prompting another exodus, as thousands go without proper emergency assistance in the Irrawaddy delta, a situation many blame of the government's reluctance to facilitate a full-fledged international emergency assistance program in the storm-battered country.

'More victims will come out until and unless there is immediate and effective rescue and relief program,' said the NDD.

There are reports that at least 100 cyclone victims from the delta or Yangon have travelled to Mae Sot, a Thai border town, to seek assistance, according to the Irrawaddy Magazine, a monthly published outside Myanmar that monitored Myanmar-related issues.


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