Myanmar junta defends Cyclone Mocha response, as UN continues call for greater access

Facing growing international pressure to allow access to areas hit by Cyclone Mocha, Myanmar’s military regime has accused critics of its disaster response of trying to “undermine” the country’s sovereignty.

In a commentary published by The Bangkok Post on Tuesday, Than Htwe, the deputy chief of mission at the Myanmar embassy in Thailand, claimed that the junta’s handling of the pre- and post-cyclone situation demonstrates its “management capability, efficient action, and ability to plan long-term.”

“Cyclone Mocha showed how the image of Myanmar painted by unreliable media outlets was nothing but an exaggeration which undermines the sovereignty of Myanmar,” he said.

The diplomat’s efforts to present the situation in a more positive light comes as the United Nations has warned that time is running out to assist victims of the cyclone, which hit northern Rakhine State more than three weeks ago.

“The international community has to be given widespread access to the affected communities. And that’s a very urgent requirement,” the UN Development Programme Resident Representative in Myanmar, Titon Mitra, said following a visit to the state’s capital Sittwe last Friday.

According to the UN, some 1.6 million people in Rakhine, Chin, and Kachin states and Magway and Sagaing regions continue to be impacted by the aftermath of the devastating storm.

Cyclone Mocha is believed to have killed hundreds of people when it made landfall near Sittwe on May 14. Most of its victims were ethnic Rohingya who have been living in camps for internally displaced persons for years.

The storm inflicted massive damage on Sittwe and also destroyed thousands of homes across a wide swathe of northwestern Myanmar as it brought heavy rains and landslides to remote areas farther inland.

Many of the affected areas are among the poorest in the country, and also include strongholds of the resistance movement that that has emerged since the military seized power more than two years ago.

This has given rise to concerns that the regime is deliberately withholding aid to areas that it doesn’t fully control.

“This really is a time for the depoliticization and the demilitarization of aid, because the needs are absolutely immense,” said Mitra, urging the regime to set other considerations aside as basic food and shelter needs continue to go unmet even as the monsoon season approaches.

The UN’s top aid official in Myanmar, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, made an urgent appeal two weeks ago for US$333 million in aid to assist victims of Mocha. Since then, however, only limited progress has been made in delivering aid to those in need.

In his commentary, junta diplomat Than Htwe singled out “countries which are friendly with Myanmar… such as India, Thailand and China, as well as international organisations” for their role in providing assistance.

Regarding other sources of aid, he said the regime would take a pragmatic approach, but also expected to be treated with “mutual respect.”

“Practical solutions will be considered, but not policies which reflect double standards,” he said, implying that cooperation would be contingent on recognition of the junta’s authority.

In 2008, a previous regime faced widespread condemnation for obstructing efforts to assist victims of Cyclone Nargis, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in the Ayeyarwady delta region on the night of May2-3 and left millions more homeless.

The junta then in power later leveraged that humanitarian crisis to gain greater acceptance of its transition to a “disciplined democracy” based on a military-drafted constitution that was approved in a rigged referendum held a week after the disaster.

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