Mon 30 Jun 2008
Filed under: News,Opinion,Other
Since the special meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Singapore on May 19, there has been a lot of criticism of and skepticism in the way Asean engaged in the humanitarian relief effort toward the victims of Cyclone Nargis.
Very little real news and information about our efforts were reported to the outside world. That is bad for Burma and unhelpful for Asean.
I personally appealed to the Minister for Social Welfare in Burma on the morning of June 14. I repeated my appeal at an informal consultation with the Tripartite Core Group in the afternoon of the same day.
And when I returned to Jakarta and invited the Burmese chargÃ© d’affaires to my office on June 18, I gave him the same message and asked him to pass it to his government in Naypyidaw. The message read:
â€œThe world is still very skeptical of our joint efforts. The international community is very critical of Asean and UN engagement with Myanmar [Burma] even on humanitarian grounds. This has to be balanced. This view cannot be left uncorrected.
â€œYou invited Asean in. We came in full force. More than that, we brought the world into Myanmar with us to help your people for their humanitarian needs.
â€œThe Asean people deserve to know what we are doing here to help your people. And we do it in their name. We represent their goodwill.
â€œAt least you should consider inviting the Asean state media into your country to see what we are doing, to see the extent of the damage, to report on the needs of your people.â€
It took almost a month after long and quiet persuasion. We got word from our Asean Coordinating Office in Rangoon on the evening of Sunday, June 22, that we had received the approval of the Burmese authorities to invite all of the representatives of the Asean media into Burma in time to cover the Asean Roundtable on the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment preliminary report and in time for a trip to inspect the extent of the destruction that Cyclone Nargis wrought on the Irrawaddy delta.
This is great flexibility and accommodation on the part of the leadership of Burma.
To see the spread and the seriousness of the destruction is a heartbreak; but to see the smiles on the faces of the children who survived the fury of the cyclone-and the refusal to surrender and the determination to get up and get on with their lives-is indeed an inspiration to all of us.
Surin Pitsuwan is secretary-general of Asean.