“I am so sorry,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said after Myint Thu poured forth worry and fear for her family in the delta region of Myanmar where the full force of a killer cyclone hit three weeks ago.
“I am sorry,” the Democratic senator told Amy Twe whose loved ones in Yangon saw their homes crushed by trees.
I am sorry. Beyond compassion, the words express the profound frustration and helplessness felt around the world as Myanmar’s ruling military junta continues to stall aid intended to help more than 2 million Burmese people who were displaced by the cyclone and now face famine and disease.
Klobuchar offered more than condolences to a delegation of local Burmese Americans who met with her in Minneapolis Wednesday. Among other information, she provided fresh casualty estimates from the U.S. State Department: 80,000 dead in their homeland, 50,000 to 60,000 missing, and 2.4 million survivors suffering injuries and serious losses.
China’s willingness to accept help for its earthquake victims seems to have softened resistance to outsiders in Myanmar, Klobuchar said, and about 40 percent of the surviving cyclone victims have received aid. That was up from about 20 percent last week. But it still made no sense to the concerned people gathered around her conference table.
Thu, who lives in North St. Paul, said she talked briefly by telephone with her brother in Myanmar shortly after the cyclone hit and learned her parents had survived. But all her efforts to contact her family since then have failed. And she has no idea whether her sister is dead or alive.
“I’m so worried,” Thu told Klobuchar.
Fear of famine
Myo Nyunt of East St. Paul said Burmese people in Minnesota continue to hear sporadic reports that government forces are blocking roads to the hardest hit areas and stealing relief supplies.
“It is very important that aid workers go to the area,” he said. “If you send aid to the government, you don’t know what will happen to it.”
He worries especially, he said, that famine will break out in a few months because the cyclone struck Myanmar’s rice growing region and nothing is being done to restore the crop.
Aung Koe implored Klobuchar to continue speaking on behalf of the Burmese people because they are afraid to speak for themselves. Buddhist monks, who dare to send emails describing conditions in isolated regions, report that the junta is cracking down once again.
“The people inside Burma need help,” Koe said. “They have no right to speak out … So we have to do something from the outside.”
On Tuesday, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest was renewed, the BBC reported. But the report also quoted Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, saying that the cyclone crisis had helped achieve more active dialogue with the junta.
Klobuchar pledged to continue working with First Lady Laura Bush’s long-term effort to improve human rights in Myanmar. She also offered to support local preparations for a new wave of refugees from camps along Myanmar’s border with Thailand.
Mi Mi Oo of Burnsville said as many as 2,000 Burmese refugees expect to resettle in Minnesota in the near future, many of them from the Karen ethnic group which has been persecuted by the ruling junta.
Therese Gales, spokesperson for the American Refugee Committee in Minneapolis, said she also has heard a new wave of Burmese refugees may be coming to Minnesota. The committee serves some 40,000 refugees in three camps on the Thai-Myanmar border. It also has sent two shipments of prescription drugs, emergency medical supplies, clothing, food, candles and blankets into Myanmar to help with the cyclone-relief effort.
In Minnesota, Burmese Americans are working through the organization Community Improvement & Development to provide solar ovens, lanterns and other supplies to hard-hit areas in Myanmar. They also are building networks of economic support and social services for the refugees expected here.