Myanmar votes in cyclone-hit areas

Storm survivors, still without aid, complain of military intimidation in vote.

    Homeless people shelter in a school in the
    Irrawaddy Delta [GALLO/GETTY]

    The pro-democracy leader's party says the constitution will enshrine military rule, and condemned the government for focusing on its referendum rather than on delivering aid to cyclone victims.
    The cyclone left at least 133,000 people dead or missing and about 2.4 million people remain in desperate need of food, shelter and medicine.
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    Al Jazeera's correspondent in Myanmar, who is not being named for security reasons, reports from the Irrawaddy Delta region that many people have still received no assistance.
    "It is not difficult to find people who really need help - they haven't had doctors or any aid, surviving off coconut for the past three weeks," she said.
    The villagers have also complained of intimidation in Saturday's poll, saying military officers came to their homes and ordered them to vote.
    "Villagers can't tell you what the vote is about. People are angry but really cautious, very careful not to speak out and get themselves in trouble," she reported.
    "A month ago the government man came to my house and took a photo of everybody in my family," one government worker told Al Jazeera.
    "Those who vote yes get opportunities, licenses for bikes cars and businesses. I've heard of people being taken to prison for voting no. It's intimidation."
    Another woman said: "It's bad. people in the [Irrawady] Delta are being made to vote when they are suffering."
    Aid agreement
    Relief could finally be on the way after Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, met Than Shwe, Myanmar's senior general.
    In depth

    Going to the polls

    Asia's worst storms

    Satellite photos:
    Before and after

    Why Myanmar's generals shun foreign aid

    The military leader on Friday agreed to allow access to all foreign aid workers to help with the relief operation after earlier refusals.


    "He has agreed to allow all aid workers regardless of nationalities," Ban said in Naypyidaw, Myanmar's capital, on Friday.


    But the specifics of the agreement remain unclear and aid agencies are still questioning whether or not they will be given the access they say they require.


    Paul Cawthorne, the head of mission for Medecins Sans Frontieres, the medical aid group, told Al Jazeera: "If it's true, it's wonderful news. We've been waiting for this news for three weeks [but] we still have to wait to see if it's put into action.


    "We really need to step up our efforts enormously," he said, adding that more experts were needed in the affected areas to help assess and resolve developing problems.

    Since the storm hit, only 146 aid flights have arrived in Yangon.


    International donors have committed $110m to relief efforts, and pledged another $110m if foreign aid workers are allowed into the hardest-hit Irrawaddy Delta region.


    Cautious response


    Lionel Rosenblatt, a former president of Refugees International, told Al Jazeera he was "sceptical" of the agreement.


    "I think if its a precursor to wider agreements then it's something very significant, but we're still not sure what it means in terms of speed - it may take days for these people to get to duty stations," he said.


    Ban, left, visited Myanmar to seek permission
    for foreign aid to enter the country [AFP]

    "I think we have to remember we're now three weeks plus one day into the time elapsed since the cyclone hit - people are in very bad shape."


    Aid agencies have repeatedly insisted that more people will die unless they get immediate food, water, shelter and medical care.


    Amnesty International warned that the move from the government could already be "far little too late".


    Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher, said: "International aid agencies are estimating that at most, 30 per cent of the victims in the worst affected areas have received some kind of assistance. That clearly is not enough."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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