Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday accused the military leaders of Myanmar, also known as Burma, of “criminal neglect” for blocking massive aid shipments to cyclone victims. The comment was the most forceful yet from the Bush administration over the mishandling of the disaster, although Gates said that defense ministers who met in Singapore over the weekend ruled out sending in relief supplies by force. (The New York Times)
What the commentators said
It’s past time for the United Nations to start planning a “genocide tribunal” for junta leader Gen. Than Shwe and “his fellow thugs,” said Joel Brinkley in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Though military dictators there will not allow anyone to see, babies' bellies are beginning to swell, and listless adults are slipping away, victims of cholera, diphtheria or worse. Tens of thousands are likely to die—most of them from disease and starvation.” And Burma’s generals could have prevented all of this by letting in relief supplies and workers.
“With the utmost ill grace,” said the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier in an editorial, Burma’s despots are finally letting outsiders help the millions who are “still in peril.” But not until the regime has forced survivors to leave shelters—to tell the world the crisis has passed—and belittled the outside effort to help by saying the world was sending chocolate bars, even though the aid U.N. World Food Program is really sending rice and beans. “It is crystal clear that the military has one overriding objective and that is to ensure it retains absolute power. “
The disastrous cyclone response might actually end up bringing down the regime, said The Irrawaddy, a Burmese dissident magazine based in Thailand, in an editorial. As hundreds of thousands of Burmese teeter on the brink of starvation, “the regime’s mouthpiece newspapers are telling farmers to be self-reliant by foraging on water cloves and frogs.” As the generals’ continue to ignore the suffering caused by Cyclone Nargis, it is becoming clear that the regime “is not sustainable.” Now it’s up to “democratic forces inside and outside the country” to come up with alternative leadership that can “rebuild a new Burma.”