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Suu Kyi trial clouds Myanmar cyclone aid effort

From ReliefWeb

200-1991-Aung_San_Suu_Kyi

BANGKOK, June 10 (Reuters) – Myanmar’s trial of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will hurt international efforts to help the army-ruled country’s recovery from the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, donors said on Wednesday.

The donors, which include the U.S., Britain, European Commission and Japan, have told the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) they are concerned about the trial, and to expect delays in the delivery of aid.

“(The trial) has not helped the enthusiasm of their constituencies to engage more actively and more fully,” ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan told reporters after a meeting with donors in Bangkok.

Suu Kyi, 63, faces three to five years in prison if found guilty of breaching terms of her house arrest by allowing an American intruder to stay for two days after he swam to her home on May 4.

Cyclone Nargis battered the former Burma in May 2008, leaving 140,000 dead and 2.4 million destitute, with the Irrawaddy Delta worst affected.

Aid groups and diplomats in Myanmar were optimistic that humanitarian operations would increase, but donors said Suu Kyi’s trial could derail fundraising efforts.

“Some activists were already sceptical about providing humanitarian aid to Burma … and the U.N. was having difficulty raising sufficient funds,” said Harn Yawnghwe, executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office.

“Now, it will, politically speaking, be even more difficult. Anyone proposing more humanitarian aid will face strong political opposition in their home countries,” he told Reuters.

A conviction for the Nobel laureate is widely expected and would further isolate one of the world’s most secretive regimes.

Since Suu Kyi’s arrest, U.S. President Barack Obama has renewed sanctions and the European Union is considering increasing restrictions on the regime.

AID DEBATE

International aid has not flowed easily to Myanmar, with critics arguing it would bolster the ruling generals, the latest in an unbroken line of military rulers since 1962.

Aid workers are concerned the regime’s latest crackdown on Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention, will make it harder to secure aid commitments.

Myanmar already receives scant overseas development assistance, a meagre $2.85 per head compared with nearly $50 for Sudan and neighbouring Laos.

One in 10 people live below the poverty line in Myanmar, where the regime spends only $0.70 per person on healthcare annually.

It has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world and a third of all children under 5 are malnourished.

“It would be really silly to penalise the people of this country for actions taken by the current military regime,” said Andrew Kirkwood, country director for Save The Children UK.

Aung Naing Oo, an exiled Myanmar activist, said now is the time for the outside world to provide more aid, not less.

“It’s the junta they want to isolate but the economy, education, social needs and healthcare are all affected in the process,” he said.

(Editing by Martin Petty)

For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit www.alertnet.org

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