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ASEAN coordinating mechanism must help Burma distribute aid to survivors

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The Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN, of which FORUM-ASIA is a member, has welcomed the establishment of a coordinating mechanism to facilitate humanitarian aid into Burma in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, but said it must help the junta overcome its paranoia of invasion and ensure that it will immediately lead to the free movement of aid supplies and workers to help all 2.5 million and the dismantling of all restrictions on aid.

Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacies (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN

ASEAN mechanism must help junta overcome fear of being invaded by food and medicine

On Monday, May 19, ASEAN Foreign Ministers met in Singapore to discuss how best to assist Burma after the cyclone Nargis disaster. ASEAN established a coordinating mechanism to help facilitate the distribution and utilization of humanitarian aid into Burma, on the basis of which Burmese generals agreed to receive international assistance.

While SAPA welcomes the development, it wants the mechanism to involve the participation of aid agencies and civil society groups from ASEAN and its dialogue partners in aid efforts, particularly in rehabilitation programs.

SAPA further calls on ASEAN to ensure that its newly established coordinating mechanism will immediately lead to the free movement of aid supplies and workers to help all 2.5 million survivors of Cyclone Nargis, as well as the dismantling of all restrictions on aid.

A commonly agreed protocol must be established for an ASEAN Task Force, headed by ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, to be empowered as a deliberating and decision-making body. This must be established as a matter of urgency, before the 25 May donors meeting, to allow donors to make informed and realistic proposals.

It is essential that ASEAN helps the regime overcome its paranoia of being invaded by clean water, plastic sheeting, food and medicines. Decisive steps on this will signal to the people of Burma that ASEAN is indeed working for their benefit.

SAPA is concerned that the ASEAN-led mechanism is not misused as a means to shield the Burmese junta from its obligation to cooperate with the international community. ASEAN has said that international assistance should not be politicized, therefore it must ensure that help reaches those in need, regardless of their political affiliation, ethnicity or religion.

ASEAN must also be prepared to work with all stakeholders to guarantee accountability and transparency so that aid is not used to coerce or induce people to join militias or junta-aligned groups.

In the 17 days since Cyclone Nargis devastated one of the most densely populated and economically significant zones in Burma, the junta has denied aid to most of the survivors, choosing instead to focus its resources on a sham referendum. It has refused to accept assistance offered in good faith by ASEAN dialogue partners, and has even declined to take the phone calls of the UN Secretary General.

The cyclone-affected communities will not be able to survive any recurrence of such tactics. The governments of ASEAN and the international community must not tolerate anymore delays.


ASEAN Dialogue Partners are Australia, Canada, China, European Union, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Pakistan, Russian Federation and the United States.

SAPA Working Group on the ASEAN, together with:

Burma Partnership
Focus on the Global South
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Human Rights Working Group, Indonesia
IID Initiatives for International Dialogue
MFA Migrant Forum in Asia
SEACA South East Asian Committee for Advocacy
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN)