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Myanmar Lashes Media
2:18am, Jun 6th 2008
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Myanmar on Friday accused foreign media of fabricating "despicable and inhuman" stories about the cyclone, as new delays hampered efforts to reach one million hungry and homeless survivors.

The latest tirade in the government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar newspaper came as the government tries to convince the world that it has the relief effort under control, without major international assistance.

The official newspaper denounced "self-seekers exploiting storm victims," who they said were "shooting video films featuring made-up stories in the storm-affected areas ... and sending the videotapes to foreign news agencies."

"Those foreign news agencies are issuing such groundless news stories with the intention of tarnishing the image of Myanmar and misleading the international community," it said.

Most of the video footage showing the destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis has been filmed by amateurs and shown on VCDs sold on Yangon's sidewalks. The images are difficult to watch, with corpses rotting in fields and families huddled under makeshift shelters in the daily monsoon rains.

The paper accused foreign media of exaggerating the cyclone damage, denouncing the reports as "despicable and inhuman acts."

Cyclone Nargis left 133,000 people dead or missing. The United Nations says 2.4 million people need emergency aid in the wake of the storm, but five weeks after the storm hit, one million of them have yet to receive any.

Junta leader Than Shwe agreed two weeks ago to allow a full-scale international relief effort, assuring UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during a visit here that foreign experts would have access to the hardest-hit regions of the Irrawadday Delta.

While aid agencies as well as Southeast Asian and UN experts have been allowed into the region, they say access remains patchy -- especially for remote villages hidden in the maze of rivers that laces the delta.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) won permission more than two weeks ago to bring 10 helicopters into Myanmar, but so far only one is actually flying between Yangon and the delta.

Seven others that had been due to leave Bangkok for Yangon, Myanmar's former capital, remain stranded in Thailand. The WFP blamed the latest delay on bad weather, but some of the choppers have been waiting for a week to enter Myanmar.

The junta has flatly refused aid from American, British and French warships laden with emergency supplies. The United States has offered military helicopters to help deliver food, but so far the regime has not responded.

Local volunteers have tried to fill the gap and deliver aid themselves, but they increasingly say that security forces are turning them away.

The nation's most famous comedian, Zaganar, who had been leading deliveries of aid to cyclone survivors, was arrested late Wednesday, according to his family.

Zaganar recently told The Irrawaddy, a magazine run by dissidents based in Thailand, that he had organised 400 volunteers to deliver supplies to 42 villages.

"At the beginning, we took risks, and we had to move forward on our own. Sometimes we had confrontations with the authorities," he told the magazine before his arrest.

"For example, they asked us why we were going on our own without consulting them and wanted us to negotiate with them. They said they couldn't guarantee our lives."





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