RANGOON, Myanmar – The ruling junta in Burma, also known as Myanmar, lashed out Thursday at aid donors who promised millions of dollars for cyclone relief, saying survivors didn't need "bars of chocolate."
A day after global powers expressed outrage at Burma's decision to extend pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest for a sixth straight year, state-run media lashed out at donors for only pledging up to $150 million — a far cry from the $11 billion the junta said it needed to rebuild.
The Myanma Ahlin newspaper, a government mouthpiece, said cyclone victims from the hardest-hit areas could get by without foreign handouts.
"People from the Irrawaddy delta can survive on their own, even without bars of chocolate donated by the international community," it said, adding they can live on "fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields and on protein-rich fish from the rivers."
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The reference to chocolate bars appeared to be metaphorical. No aid agency is known to be distributing them, and they would not be practical in the country's tropical heat. Paul Risley of the U.N.'s World Food Program, which is directing the effort for emergency food supplies, said his agency provides rice, ready-to-eat meals of rice and beans and high-energy biscuits.
The newspaper commentary also slammed an unnamed monetary institution, saying its refusal to help cyclone survivors was "an act of inhumanity."
World Bank Managing Director Juan Jose Daboub said last week that the bank will not extend any financial aid or loans to Burma because it has not paid its debts for a decade.
The article said the same countries that criticized Burma for not opening its door to aid workers were being stingy with relief aid. It appeared to single out the United States without naming it.
"There is one big nation that extended economic sanctions on Burma even before it was known that a powerful cyclone was going to strike Burma," it said.
Despite the blistering rhetoric, the United Nations reported that dozens of visas had been approved for international relief workers to enter the country. It said more foreigners were also being allowed into the delta, which had been off-limits to Westerners since the storm left 1.5 million homeless.
It was an apparent sign that the isolationist government planned to keep its promise to allow in humanitarian workers from all countries. The last 45 pending visas were granted to U.N. staffers, while Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and the U.N. Children's Fund — UNICEF — have sent more than 14 workers in recent days into the delta region, a U.N. statement said.
Japan, which has so far donated $13 million in aid, sent a 23-member medical team to the country Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo.
The junta only agreed to allow foreign aid workers in after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe last weekend.
While issuing some praise for the opening to the international aid community, some foreign donors voiced disappointment at the government's decision Wednesday to extend pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi's house arrest for a sixth straight year.
Several countries, including the United States, Britain and France, issued biting statements about the regime's order to keep the Nobel laureate under house arrest for another year.
Under Burma law, people deemed security threats can be detained for a maximum of five years without trial, which Suu Kyi has just completed. The regime has not officially announced its decision to extend Suu Kyi's detention, or explain why it is violating its own law.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization said that it and other agencies were launching a $28 million plan to replace destroyed medical facilities and equipment and fight the outbreak of cholera, malaria, dengue fever and other diseases.
The storm left an estimated 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, shelter and medical care. Burma's government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.
The country's xenophobic leaders are leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies, worrying they could weakened the junta's powerful grip. The generals also don't want their people to see aid coming directly from countries like the U.S., which the regime has long treated as a hostile power.
The rulers consider their biggest threat to be Suu Kyi, daughter of the country's martyred independence leader, Gen. Aung San. She was awarded her Nobel prize in 1991 for her nonviolent attempts at promoting democracy and is widely popular.
State media reported late Thursday that the junta had adopted a new constitution that won overwhelming approval in a national referendum this month. Critics say the constitution is designed to perpetuate the military's decades-old grip on power and have questioned the fairness of the referendum. One of the constitution's provisions would have the effect of barring Suu Kyi from political office.