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A Disgrace to the Human Race
[Commentary] The secretive military rulers in Myanmar are refusing almost all offers of help
Peter Hinchliffe (Hinchy)     Print Article 
Published 2008-05-18 02:51 (KST)   
In a museum 6,000 miles from my homeland I was reminded of my boyhood.

Last month I was in Ayutthaya, Thailand, once the glorious capital of Siam.

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On a hot April afternoon I sought air-conditioned shelter in the Ayutthaya Historical Center, there to see a short film re-enacting the games Thai village children play.

A lad was rolling, bowling, trundling a hoop through an ancient village.

And that lad could have been me 65 years ago.

Every boy in the English village in which I grew up had a hoop. "Bullies" we called them. And we drove them along with curved bully-hooks.

Our bullies were made by our village blacksmith, Harry Asquith. The clatter of Harry's hammer on his anvil, the whinnying and stamping of horses, the whoo-whoo of hand-worked bellows, the pungent smell of burning hooves formed a background to my days. I lived next door to the Whitley smithy.

We watched Harry make hoops, heard the hiss and saw the steam rise when red-hot metal was plunged into a vat of cold water.

Then we would race the hoops up and down the village, fertile boyish imaginations turning a simple circlet of metal into a racing car or a fighter plane.

The Asquiths were farriers in Whitley for almost 400 years, father handing the hammer on to his son down the generations. An Asquith would be plying his trade when the city of Ayutthaya was in its regal prime.

I suppose the hoop being bowled along by that Thai village lad in the film was made of bamboo. But the expression of joy on his face matched that on mine when I went racing along Scopsley Lane, Whitley, with bully and hook all those years ago.

That five-seconds-worth of film showing his enjoyment forcibly reminded me of the universality of human experience -- boys in Thailand and boys in Yorkshire deriving delight from the same toy and make-believe.

We all enjoy fun and games. We shed the same kind of tears when there is suffering and loss.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown alluded to our shared needs and experiences in an interview this week published by the Church Times, an Anglican weekly newspaper.

His comments marked the tenth anniversary of the chain-of-debt campaign for the relief of debt in the developing world.

"I do applaud the way churches have made this a test of being a good neighbor," said Brown. "People are helping people they will never know or meet. These people ought to recognize they have helped to transform opportunities for people all around the world."

The prime minister said that campaigning against poverty in the developing world was "about the text, 'Who is my neighbor?' It is about a world in which people recognize that a neighbor is not simply [the person] who is geographically next door, but people who are in every part of the world We are not moral strangers to each other; the more we can find a common ground -- people sharing the same moral sense around the world -- the more we will be able to achieve a future in making the world a safer place."

This week we think of our "neighbors" in China and Myanmar (the country which some still call Burma). TV screens in Britain have been filled with scenes of human suffering resulting from cyclone and earthquake.

And U.K. citizens are giving cash to help their stricken Asian neighbors.

In just one national newspaper there were three separate large adverts asking for aid for sufferers in Myanmar. A fourth, placed by the Red Cross, asked for cash to help people in the devastated parts of China.

The Chinese government has warned that 50,000 people may have died in the earthquake. And 10 million people have been affected by the damage and destruction.

Survivors are still being pulled from the ruins of homes and public buildings.

Some 80,000 troops have been desperately engaged in searching ruins for survivors of the terrible quake. Parents have gathered round wrecked school buildings, shocked, tearful, hoping still for a miracle.

The Chinese government have invited and welcomed outside help. Reporters from around the world have been allowed to follow every step of the rescue mission.

What a different story in Myanmar, where the secretive military rulers are refusing almost all offers of help. According to that state's TV 78,000 died in the storm that struck on May 2 and 3. Another 56,000 are estimated to be missing.

Foreign aid agencies are not being allowed into the worst hit area. A BBC reporter who managed -- very definitely without official approval -- to get into the Irrawaddy Delta this week reported seeing dozens of dead bodies. Villagers said they had received no help of any kind. Food and clean water supplies were almost exhausted.

French and American ships loaded with supplies are off the shore of the stricken area. The Myanmar government has not given permission for the goods to be landed.

Aid workers fear that many more may die of disease and malnutrition than were killed during the violent cyclone. Some predict the death toll could reach 250,000.

The European Union's top aid official, Louis Michel, was denied permission to visit the delta region. He said he was given no explanation why disaster emergency experts were being refused visas.

Myanmar's leader, Thein Sein, refused to talk to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The military rulers obviously fear that their steely grip on the nation will be loosened by allowing in Good Samaritans.

Prime Minister Brown, in another powerful statement today, said Myanmar's government was guilty of inhuman treatment of the survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

He said the disaster was becoming a man-made catastrophe and the military regime should be held to account for its negligence.

The French United Nations ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert warned the Myanmar government that its refusal to allow aid to be delivered to those who need it "could lead to a true crime against humanity."

Millions of concerned "neighbors" around the world, watching in frustrated horror as the Myanmar's tragedy deepens, believe that major crimes against humanity have already been committed.

Thein Sein and his heartless gang have already done enough to merit trial by an international court.

In a neighborly world they are a disgrace to the human race.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Peter Hinchliffe

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