Myanmar: Lessons from Aceh

Parallels with the 2004 tsunami and possible lessons for Myanmar situation.

    Cyclone Nargis is the worst disaster to hit Asia since the 2004 tsunami.

     

    Then, the region hardest hit was Indonesia's Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra, where more than 160,000 people were killed. According to some reports, the disaster unfolding in Myanmar could be on a similar scale.

     

    Here we compare the parallels between events and the response of the two governments: 

    Situation: Region gripped by 30-year conflict between Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists and Indonesian military. Limited access by outside world led to slow trickle of information on disaster.

     

    Dilemma: How to allow in relief workers but not foreign journalists while keeping a lid on hostile domestic opposition in the midst of disaster.

     

    Response: Indonesian government ignored military's advice, opening region to aid workers, relief supplies from foreign military and journalists.

     

    Result: Initially sought to limit foreign presence to three months, but many stayed much longer. Sooner after government seized opportunity for talks with GAM separatists leading to peace agreement.

    Situation: Secretive military government closed to most foreign media, leaving full extent of disaster unclear for several days. Military engaged in protracted c

    onflict with ethnic minorities and pro-democracy groups; anti-government protests in September ended in bloody crackdown.

    Dilemma: How to get foreign help but maintain grip on power, restricting foreign journalists and pro-democracy advocates and whether to press on with referendum condemned by critics as a sham to entrench military rule.

     

    Response: Military government has opened up in principle and made unprecedented request for help but not letting in amount of aid really needed.

     

    Result: Little indication military government prepared to make major concessions.

    Damien Kingsbury, a South-East Asia specialist and associate professor at Australia's Deakin University, told the AFP news agency that "there are numerous parallels"  between the disasters in Myanmar and Aceh.

     

    "In Aceh the Indonesian military was reluctant to let in aid workers but was overruled by the government," he said.

     

    "In Burma, the military is the government. Most likely then, while this could be a catalyst for real political change, it will lead to more, if selective, repression."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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