Fri 27 Aug 2010
Filed under: International
In an update of its travel advisory for Burma, the US State Department on Wednesday urged Americans to exercise caution if they visit Burma in the run-up to this year’s election.The advisory, available on the State Department website, warns US citizens that they could be deported or detained if they engage in any activity deemed political by the Burmese authorities, including distributing pro-democracy literature or visiting the homes or offices of opposition politicians.
Taking photographs of “anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest” could also result in problems with the authorities, according to the State Department’s Country Specific Information report on Burma.
The advisory said the military junta is sensitive to foreigners, especially those coming from the West, and the US in particular.
“In the past year, the Government of Burma has deported a number of US citizens engaged in teaching and training programs in Mandalay and other locations in Upper Burma,” it said.
In some cases, the individuals were sponsored by the US embassy. Although their activities were apolitical, their deportations demonstrate the Burmese regime’s sensitivity to activities by foreigners, the State Department said.
Meanwhile, nearly 100 foreign relief workers in the Irrawaddy delta are allegedly being sought for overstaying their visas, according to NGO sources in Burma.
One healthcare worker told The Irrawaddy that military intelligence officers have been visiting NGO offices in the delta area in search of foreign relief workers whose visas have expired. He said the authorities are believed to have a list of around 100 overstayers, although this number could increase if the junta continues to deny visa renewals for aid workers.
Currently, most NGO workers have to leave the country every three months to renew their visas. However, many choose to remain in the country after their visas expire and pay a fine of US $5 per day for overstaying.
“When you’re running a project far away in the delta, it’s not that easy to go back to Rangoon and fly to another country,” said one NGO worker who wished to remain anonymous.
The regime said it has stopped issuing visas to many aid workers because “the relief period is now over” in the delta, more than two years after Cyclone Nargis devastated the region in May 2008.
However, some say the tightening of visa restrictions is due to the regime’s reluctance to allow large numbers of foreigners to remain in the country during this year’s election, which is scheduled to take place on Nov. 7.