Burma Arrests Celebrity Critic Who Organized Cyclone Relief
By Amy Kazmin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, June 7, 2008; A11
BANGKOK, June 6 -- In the weeks after Tropical Cyclone Nargis battered Burma's Irrawaddy Delta, Burma's most famous comedian -- a dentist known by his stage name, Zarganar, or "Tweezers" -- spearheaded efforts by about 400 Burmese artists to collect and distribute food, mosquito nets, blankets and other supplies to destitute survivors.
His initiative was one of many spontaneous private operations by concerned Rangoon residents -- including businesspeople, students, monks and local journalists -- that brought some measure of help to cyclone victims as U.N. agencies struggled with Burma's military government to get aid into the devastated region.
Long known for sharp comic jibes at the military rulers, Zarganar also spoke publicly in stark terms about the inadequacy of their cyclone relief effort, the physical difficulties and psychological trauma of the victims and the appalling conditions in the delta.
On Wednesday night, Zarganar was taken into custody by Burmese authorities, who insist that the relief phase of the emergency is over. The state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper, meanwhile, lashed out at "unscrupulous" elements that it said were exaggerating the problems in the delta.
Human rights groups say the detention of the high-profile figure and the effort to gloss over the extent of the disaster highlight the precedence Burma's rulers are giving to political concerns at the expense of the welfare of an estimated 2.5 million cyclone victims.
"By detaining him, it sends a message of real intimidation to people who the regime thinks could use the humanitarian disaster for political purposes," said Benjamin Zawacki, a researcher with Amnesty International.
More than a month after the cyclone hit, more than 1 million survivors, especially in remote, hard-to-reach areas of the delta, have received no assistance as they try to rebuild their lives, the United Nations says
Zimbabwe Run-off "Dead on Arrival"
posted by Human Rights Watch
The Zimbabwean government’s campaign of violence and intimidation against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has extinguished anychance of a free and fair presidential runoff on June 27, 2008, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
Human Rights Watch urged the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to use its influence and push President Robert Mugabe to take immediate steps to end the violence and hold those responsible to account.
The 69-page report, "'Bullets for Each of You': State-Sponsored Violence since Zimbabwe’s March 29 Elections,” documents numerous incidents of abductions, beatings, torture, and killings by officials and supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the armed forces and police, “war veterans,” and youth militia against MDC activists and perceived MDC supporters. Human Rights Watch has confirmed at least 36 politically motivated deaths and 2,000 victims of violence. The report also examines the Zimbabwean government’s role in perpetrating and inciting the violence for political gain, and its failure to end the violence and prosecute those responsible. Human Rights Watch researchers conducted more than 70 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses to the violence since March in all 10 provinces of Zimbabwe.
“Since the runoff was announced the violence in Zimbabwe has gotten even worse,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Zimbabweans can’t vote freely if they fear their vote may get them killed.”ZANU-PF and its allies are also engaged in a politically motivated campaign of looting and destruction, slaughtering animals, stealing food and property, and burning down homesteads. “War veterans” and youth militia have set up roadblocks and taken control of huge swathes of the countryside in order to limit the flow of information on the extent of the violence and to punish those perceived to have voted for the MDC. The government has also ordered all local and international nongovernmental organizations to suspend their operations in Zimbabwe, accusing them of politicizing aid distribution.
Watch the BBCNews report on the International aid agencies warning of disaster after Zimbabwe's government ordered them to stop work.