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Burmese Restrictions on Humanitarian Aid Must End,

Apr 19, 2007
Press Release
Washington, DC – The Chairman and Ranking Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today praised a new report they had requested from the General Accounting Office (GAO) that identifies the financial and other restrictions that Burma’s ruling military government places on international humanitarian assistance in the Southeast Asian country.

"The shameful behavior of Burma's military regime in tying the hand of humanitarian organizations is laid out in these pages for all to see, and it must come to an end,” said Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA). “In eastern Burma, where the military regime has burned or otherwise destroyed over 3,000 villages, humanitarian relief has been decimated.  At least one million people have fled their homes and many are simply being left to die in the jungle."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the committee, said that the report “underscores the need for democratic change in Burma, whose military regime arbitrarily arrests, tortures, rapes and executes its own people, ruthlessly persecutes ethnic minorities, and bizarrely builds itself a new capital city while failing to address the increasingly urgent challenges of refugee flows, illicit narcotics and human trafficking, and the spread of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases.”

The GAO report, entitled “Assistance Programs Constrained in Burma,” outlines the specific efforts of the Burmese government to hinder the humanitarian work of international organizations, including by restricting the free movement of international staff within the country. The report notes that the regime has tightened its control over assistance work since the former prime pinister was purged in October 2004. Most disturbing is the passing of guidelines in February 2006, which formalized Burma’s restrictive policies. According to the report, the guidelines require that programs run by humanitarian groups “enhance and safeguard the national interest” and that international organizations coordinate with state agents and select their Burmese staff from government-prepared lists of individuals. UN officials have declared these restrictions unacceptable.

Burma is ruled by one of the world's most brutal military regimes.  Among other abuses, the regime has recruited more child soldiers than in any other country and has carried out a campaign of rape as a weapon against ethnic minorities.  Forced labor is systemic and continues unabated despite condemnation by the International Labor Organization. Media coverage of the situation in eastern Burma has referred to the attacks on ethnic minorities as "Southeast Asia's Darfur."

The regime has locked up Aung San Suu Kyi – the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient ­­– who led her political party the National League for Democracy to win 82% of the seats in parliament in Burma's last democratic election 17 years ago.  Over 1,200 other political prisoners remain behind bars.

Lantos and Ros-Lehtinen called for increased pressure on the Burmese regime and raised concerns about China’s and Russia’s veto of a recent UN Security Council resolution on Burma that would have empowered the United Nations to promote national reconciliation.

Ros-Lehtinen said that “the American people stand squarely with the people of Burma; their yearning for a national reconciliation and the establishment of democracy must be respected.”

“It is long past-due for the Burmese leadership to take tangible steps toward reform, including the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, the full and free participation of the National League for Democracy and representatives of the ethnic minorities in public affairs, and the initiation of a meaningful dialogue to advance national reconciliation and the establishment of democracy,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Both Lantos and Ros-Lehtinen called on Burma's ruling military regime to immediately declare a nationwide ceasefire and end attacks on all civilians in the country.

A copy of the GAO report is available upon request.