May 15, 2008 / 8:10 AM / 11 years ago

Cyclone victim prefers ruins over government camp

By Aung Hla Tun

BOGALAY, Myanmar, May 15 (Reuters) - Po Aung would rather return to the ruins of his village in Myanmar’s delta region than stay in a state relief camp.

"We keep hearing things about victims at the government-run camps," said the 57-year-old. "We just don’t know what to do."

Nearly two weeks after Cyclone Nargis tore through Myanmar’s rice bowl over half a million people are thought to be sheltering in temporary settlements.

The lucky have been taken in by monks and private volunteers.

The less fortunate are stuck in government-run centres, where people complain of tiny food rations and forced labour.

"They have to break stones at the construction sites. They are paid K 1,000 ($1) per day but are not provided with any food," said Ko Hla Min, who has been able to stay in his village outside Bogalay, a delta town 90 km (50 miles) southwest of the main city of Yangon.

"Most people don’t want live in strange places and do new jobs. They want to go back to where they lived with their beloved ones and go back to their traditional profession, agriculture," said the 35-year-old.

Ko Hla Min lost nine members of his family in the storm. Only six people survived the tidal wave that engulfed his village and they were flung miles by its force.

He said the government relief effort in Bogalay, where at least 10,000 people are believed to have perished, has been negligible.

Along the river bank, rotting corpses are still tangled in the scrubs. Villagers continue to fish, wash and bathe in the same river.

"We can see the relief aid materials given by donors stored at some places. I wonder when they will give them to us?"

Po Aung, who survived the cyclone by clinging onto a tree and then lived on coconuts for three straight days, is hoping Buddhist monks will take him in for now.

In time, he wants to return to his village, where only around 80 people survived out of more than 500.

"If possible, most of us would like to go back to our village no matter what has happened to it," said Po Aung, who lost his son and mother in the storm.

"Those dead are gone. But, we the remaining want to return to our own place and to go back to our traditional profession, agriculture and fishing." (Writing by Carmel Crimmins; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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