Cyclone survivors cling to life in Burma

Burmese Government Denies Cyclone Relief Aid to Karen Christians

By —— Bio and Archives--May 16, 2008

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As thousands of cyclone survivors cling to life in Burma, disturbing new reports about the military’s distribution of relief aid are surfacing from the devastated region.

Residents in the Irawaddy Delta, which bore the brunt of the cyclone that tore through the country on May 3, 2008, are now claiming that the Burmese military is diverting aid from areas heavily populated by ethnic Karen villagers—a claim consistent with the government’s longstanding history of discriminatory practices against the Karen, the largest and mostly Christian minority ethnic group in the country.

In certain rural areas, reports also reveal that the military’s setup of strategically placed checkpoints is not only intended to block the passage of journalists and foreign aid workers, but to prevent relief aid from reaching Karen villagers in desperate need of help. It is also believed that the forced relocation of storm- affected victims into consolidated population centers—a practice typically enforced in Karen State—is part of the junta’s effort to increase civilian control, rather than for the benefit of the country’s affected population.

Cyclone Nargis, one of the worst storms to hit Southeast Asia since 1991, has taken the lives of over 38,000 victims in Burma, with the death toll still climbing. Thousands of survivors continue to remain homeless, with little or no access to food, clean drinking water or medical supplies, nearly one week after the storm blew through the region at 120 miles per hour. Despite widespread condemnation for its refusal to accept outside humanitarian assistance, Burma’s government continues to tighten access to the disaster zone, even as its citizens face the risk of severe famine and disease outbreaks of unprecedented proportions. The situation has caused U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to call an emergency meeting with representatives from various countries, in an effort to address the escalating crisis and the rising urgency for worldwide intervention.

As pressure from the international community continues to rise against the junta, a Michigan-based humanitarian organization is already slipping aid past Burma’s restricted borders. Christian Freedom International (CFI), an organization that has established numerous humanitarian projects in Burma on behalf of the persecuted Karen, has begun wiring donated funds for relief aid into the country through its network of underground house churches. CFI’s team of indigenous backpack medics, who typically assist sick and injured Karen refugees hiding in the mountains or jungles, have also been dispatched into remote areas to help treat ailing cyclone victims.

For more information about CFI’s relief effort in Burma, call 1-800-323-2273 or visit http://www.christianfreedom.org.

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