June 8, 2008 / 8:45 AM / 11 years ago

Myanmar denies evictions from cyclone relief camps

YANGON, June 8 (Reuters) - Myanmar’s military government denied on Sunday it was evicting victims of Cyclone Nargis from relief camps, saying it was working on a voluntary resettlement programme more than a month after the disaster.

The New Light of Myanmar, the voice of the ruling generals, quoted Prime Minister Thein Sein as saying survivors of the May 2 storm would be given aid to return home or settle in new areas.

"If victims want to live in areas where relief camps are being opened, arrangements will be made to resettle them there," Thein Sein said during a tour of a relief camp on Saturday in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta.

"In addition, the government will provide for their basic needs to a certain degree for some time," he said, adding survivors would receive food rations and farming equipment.

More than a month after the storm, which left 134,000 people dead or missing and another 2.4 million destitute, many survivors have not yet been reached and Western nations and foreign aid groups say the relief effort is being hampered by the country’s military rulers.

In its first assessment of the junta’s response to the disaster, Amnesty International said last week the government was stepping up its eviction of victims from emergency shelters, but said it was unclear whether this was official policy.

"The government’s actions place tens of thousands of already vulnerable survivors at increased risk of death, disease or starvation," the London-based rights group said.

Foreign media have also quoted survivors as saying they were forced to leave the camps with few supplies. The government has called the reports "groundless" and accused foreign media of "fabricating news" about Myanmar’s cyclone response.

"Despite supplying the basic needs of the people, untrue news stories regarding the government’s measures are being broadcast by some unscrupulous persons and organisations with negative views," Thein Sein, who is leading the junta’s aid effort, said.

Aid agencies say dozens of delta villages have yet to receive any relief assistance, mostly in remote parts of the delta only accessible by boat or helicopter.

Plans to accelerate the delivery of aid received a boost on Saturday when five World Food Programme (WFP) helicopters arrived in the former capital Yangon, joining one already there.

Another four WFP helicopters are expected to fly to the former Burma next week under a plan approved by the regime more than two weeks ago. The generals have refused to allow in military helicopters from its neighbours and the United States.

The U.N. food agency estimates it will need to feed at least 750,000 people in devastated areas for some time to come.

A team of 200 international disaster and aid experts is currently assessing the extent of the cyclone destruction and gauge whether farmers would be able to plant crucial monsoon rice crops by the end of July. (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Darren Schuettler)



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