Burma: Cyclone Nargis kills 134,000, & should coincide with end to Aung San Suu Kyi's incarceration
London ~~ Sunday May 25, 2008
Hope for release of Aung San Suu Kyi as Burma donors meet to pledge billionsTracy McVeigh and a special Burma correspondent
Representatives of more than 45 governments will meet in Rangoon today to pledge money to help Burma's cyclone survivors, but with tough conditions attached - particularly that the country's military rulers give access to disaster zones and ensure that aid reaches those who need it.
It comes as supporters of the democratically elected leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, have been speculating that the junta is planning an easing of her house arrest conditions or even a release, as part of its concessions to huge international pressure. The detention order that confined her to a fifth consecutive year of incarceration expired last night.
Three weeks after Cyclone Nargis killed an estimated 134,000 people and left more than two million in the Irrawaddy delta homeless, diplomatic wrangling between the Burmese regime and the international community seemed to be coming to a conclusion with the junta's announcement on Friday that 'all aid workers' would be let in and that small boats would be allowed to deliver medicines and food. Until now Burma had blocked significant amounts of aid and refused visas to foreign specialists, apparently afraid their presence could loosen the regime's 46-year grip on power.
Charities fear they may be 'held to ransom' by Burma, which hopes to see an $11bn aid package pledged today, and say the military government must spell out exactly what its promise meant. 'We have to see that this is transmitted into reality, into practice,' Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said. 'If the agreement given to the secretary-general of the UN cannot be implemented in spirit, then we will have problems delivering assistance.'
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UK's Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, will be at today's donor conference. A senior source in Alexander's department, said the issue of Suu Kyi's continued imprisonment would not be raised. 'It would be inappropriate when the utmost importance is ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid,' he said.
Burmese online publications have carried unconfirmed reports that the Nobel Peace Prize winner's release was imminent, albeit with tight conditions.
Jared Genser, a US-based lawyer representing Suu Kyi's family, said: 'If she is released it is important that this is done without any conditions and that the international community remains vigilant given how many times she has been subsequently rearrested in the past.'