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Burma’s Agony

As the death toll mounts from the cyclone that struck a densely populated area of Burma stretching from the Irrawaddy Delta to the capital city of Rangoon continues to soar, the country’s military dictatorship is pressing ahead with efforts to consolidate its power. The junta leaders have done little to facilitate recovery efforts in the wake of the disaster. Indeed, they have announced their intentions to move forward with conducting a national referendum scheduled for Saturday to approve a new constitution, which they hope will entrench their power for decades to come.

Burma’s rulers have said that the vote will be delayed in the areas hardest hit by the cyclone until May 24, but the referendum will still go ahead as planned in other parts of the country. With this move, the military leaders are putting their sham vote aimed at tightening their repressive grip on power ahead of the well being of the Burmese people.

This should be no surprise. For nearly five decades, Burma’s military rulers have systematically undermined the interests of their own citizens. In this latest case, the junta-controlled news media failed to announce warnings about the approaching cyclone. The entry of United Nations humanitarian personnel, has been delayed due to the government’s refusal to allow aid workers into the country without first applying for visas. Moreover, the military leaders are dragging their feet on easing restrictions on the import of humanitarian supplies and allowing a UN assessment team into the country.

Some have urged focusing attention on bringing relief efforts to Burma instead of criticizing its government. But the reality is that the two issues are connected and the magnitude of the disaster has been made worse by the junta’s single-minded objective of preserving its power.