May 29, 2008 / 11:31 AM / 11 years ago

Myanmar evicts cyclone refugees from tented village

KHAW MHU, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar’s junta is evicting dozens of destitute families from one of its own cyclone refugee centres, giving each one just four bamboo poles, a tarpaulin and an unlikely promise of a monthly ration of rice.

“What are we supposed to do?” said 39-year-old Than Soe, nervously stroking the heads of his three young children at the small government ‘tented village’ 20 miles south of Yangon, the former capital.

“We have no food, no money, no home and no job. We don’t trust their promise that they will give us food every month,” he said.

The camp is home to 144 people left with nothing after the May 2 storm, but the local military authorities have given orders that it be emptied by Friday, apparently out of concern that it will become a permanent home.

With its neat row of government issue blue tents, the camp can at best be described as spartan — each tent is empty except for some bamboo floor slats and a small platform to sleep on.

But it is considerably better than the alternative on offer — four flimsy bamboo poles and a plastic sheet to ward off the monsoon rains that are now lashing the Irrawaddy delta on an almost daily basis.

The camp’s residents, a tiny fraction of the 2.4 million people left destitute by Cyclone Nargis, say they have been given no explanation for the eviction or advice on how to start rebuilding their lives.

“We don’t know what to do with the poles. This isn’t for humans. It’s for animals,” said Maung Ko, whose wife Than Than Shwe is breastfeeding an eight-month old baby, as children nearby play hopscotch in the dirt to pass the time.

Like much of the delta area, the town and its immediate vicinity is closed to foreigners, although United Nations aid workers have visited for humanitarian assessments and tarpaulins from the U.N. refugee agency cover some houses.

Elsewhere on the edge of the path of destruction wrought by Nargis, the cleanup is progressing slowly. Hammering can be heard everywhere, and the occasional group of soldiers can be seen repairing phone lines.

At a government food station on Wednesday, more than 700 families queued in rain for large sacks of rice. Many of them had trudged barefoot for miles through the mud and rain.

“Sit down, get in line and do not talk,” an official blared harshly through a loudspeaker. Outside on the road, people begged for food or water from passing cars, wolfing down anything that came their way.

Boredom and anxiety are also starting to take their toll on the minds of the survivors.

“We are very disappointed with the government and very worried about the future,” Maung Ko said. “We were workers before the cyclone, but now there are no jobs. What can we do?”

Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Sanjeev Miglani

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