MYANMAR: Government denies foreign journalists' entry

Military junta limits foreign aid and news coverage of post-Cyclone Nargis devastation

By Debory Li
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BBC journalist Andrew Harding was deported from Myanmar last week after attempting to report about the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

According to an Agence France-Presse report, state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar first covered the story, saying Harding was deported due to visa violations. He attempted to enter Myanmar with a tourist visa rather than an official journalist visa. Harding had done this twice before and was blacklisted from entering the country.

New Light of Myanmar accused Western journalists of illegally entering Myanmar and writing falsehoods with the aid of anti-government groups within the country. Foreign journalists have been denied access to the country, and in the case of CNN reporter Dan Rivers, have resorted to sneaking inside it -- only to be hunted by the government. Local journalists face harassment and imprisonment for reporting on stories that may offend the ruling junta.

"The military regime wants to conceal the extent of the damage. And they don't want the Burmese people telling foreigners the true story," said Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw, according to an Associated Press report.

Nonetheless, images and reports of the post-cyclone devastation have reached the rest of the world. Myanmar's state-run television station said the death toll has reached more than 34,000 after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on May 3, 2008 and estimated that nearly 28,000 people are missing. The U.S. charge d'affaires in Yangon, Shari Villarosa, however, estimated the death toll is over 100,000.

U.N. officials said that at least two-thirds of the 1.5 million people in need of aid have not received it, according to a Bloomberg report. Recovery efforts remained stalled while the military government delays accepting foreign aid and imposes stringent restrictions.

Estimates by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization revealed that the five states hit hardest by Cyclone Nargis account for 65 percent of the country's rice production. "There is likely going to be incredible shortages in the next 18 to 24 months," economist Sean Turnell told the Associated Press.