Myanmar junta slams citizens over cyclone reports
Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's junta attacked "unscrupulous" citizens and foreign media on Friday for presenting a false picture of the devastation left by Cyclone Nargis as experts began mapping the extent of the disaster.
The New Light of Myanmar, the mouthpiece of the ruling generals, said people had been selling video footage "of invented stories" to foreign news organizations which tarnished the country's image.
"The people who are in touch with the situation feel that the despicable and inhumane acts by local and foreign anti-government groups and self-centered persons and their exploiting of the storm victims are absolutely obnoxious," the newspaper said.
Bootleg copies of DVDs showing the devastation in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta have been snapped up on the streets of the former capital Yangon and smuggled out of the country.
Newspaper, television and radio are tightly controlled by the military government, which also severely restricts international media access to the former Burma.
"Those foreign news agencies are issuing groundless news stories with the intention of tarnishing the image of Myanmar and misleading the international community into believing that cyclone victims do not receive any assistance," the New Light of Myanmar said.
Police detained well-known activist/comedian Zarganar on Thursday who was involved in a private aid effort for cyclone victims. They also seized his computer, several banned films and records of the cyclone damage.
Dozens of delta villages, some visited by Reuters, have yet to receive any relief assistance since the May 2 cyclone swept over the area and Yangon, leaving 134,000 dead or missing and 2.4 million people in desperate need of help.
The newspaper report accused media organizations and local people of "luring naive storm victims" with leading questions on their living conditions a week after the junta began evicting thousands of people from state-run camps out of apparent fear that the tented villages could become permanent.
A team of 200 international disaster and aid experts fanned out across the delta to assess the extent of the cyclone destruction and gauge whether farmers would be able to plant crucial monsoon rice crops by the end of July.
"They have begun looking at areas today and will report back in the middle of next month," a spokeswoman for the ASEAN-UN "Emergency Rapid Assessment Team" told Reuters.
(Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Darren Schuettler)