Myanmar Criticized at Shangri-La Dialogue
BY WENDELL MINNICK
SINGAPORE - Myanmar was slammed at the Shangri-La Dialogue, held here May 30 to June 1, for its resistance to offers of international aid for victims of Cyclone Nargis.
The dialogue, held at the Shangri-La Hotel and sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), was attended by ministers of defense from around Asia, Europe and the United States. Of special interest was the Myanmar delegation headed by Maj. Gen. Aye Myint, deputy minister of defense, and including Myanmar's ambassador to Singapore, Win Myint; Col. Zaw Win, director, Defense Services Museum, Ministry of Defense; and Than Than Htay, secretary, Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In a speech about Myanmar's relief efforts, by Myint, delegates packed into the Island Ballroom listened incredulously to an explanation of why Myanmar has turned down aid.
Myint gave a self-congratulatory speech detailing the junta's successful efforts dealing with the crisis. He said his government has spent 70 billion Kyat ($11.1 billion) on relief and rehabilitation of ravaged areas.
"We have mobilized over 30,000 from the armed forces, 3,216 from the People's Police Force and 36,659 from social organizations and international NGOs, including Red Cross and the Fire Brigade," he said. "There are now 122 medical teams with the number of 2,029 persons providing intensive medical services in cooperation with the local medical staff."
His comments came a few days after the official Myanmar government newspaper, The Irrawaddy Delta, suggested survivors in devastated regions could eat "plump frogs" to survive.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed the crisis at length during his speech and while answering questions about U.S. Navy ships that had been diverted from the Cobra Gold exercise with Thailand to provide assistance to Myanmar. However, the government in Rangoon, "at a cost of tens of thousands of lives," hesitated to allow U.S. help.
"Despite these obstructions, we continue to get help into Burma and remain poised to provide more," he said.
During Gates' presentation, an IISS delegation member suggested U.S. policy toward Myanmar was a failure and botched engagement opportunities with Myanmar. Gates responded by saying Myanmar had expressed no interest in engagement with the United States, and in most cases ignored the international community.
"For a productive dialogue to take place, it is necessary for both parties to feel a need to engage. There has been little indication that Myanmar has any interest in engaging the U.S.," Gates said.
"We have reached out, frankly, to Myanmar multiple times during this crisis, in very direct ways, including Adm. Keating going to Rangoon. We have reached out on a number occasions, I think he [Keating] said 15 times to get them to open up. It has not been us who have been deaf and dumb in response to the pleas of the international community. We have reached out and they have kept their hands in their pockets."
Richard Armitage, former U.S. deputy secretary of state, said Gates opposed using force to provide assistance.
"It might be strange, but it is a sovereign state. They have put their hands in their pockets and thousands have died."
In response to recent natural disasters in China and Myanmar, Singapore Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean reiterated the need for international assistance and the role foreign militaries can play in disaster relief missions.
"No country, no matter how big, is able to muster all the resources and specialized capabilities necessary to attend to all the needs of the victims. International aid organizations and rescue services from other countries can bring much needed assistance," he said.
Military assistance has a "crucial role to play in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. They have the resources and manpower to fulfill an important quick response role in the crucial first stages of disaster relief and rescue operations."
French delegate Pierre Lellouche, a member of the Assemblee Nationale and chairman of the French delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, became angry during the questioning of Myint, telling him directly the United Nations could hold him and other members of the junta criminally responsible for the deaths of thousands.
Other delegate members also expressed deep concern about the situation and strongly suggested a future tribunal for Myanmar junta leaders should be pursued.