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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Myanmar junta slammed for referendum in cyclone wake

Staff writer

The Myanmar junta's plan to hold a national referendum while its people are reeling in the aftermath of a devastating cyclone "will not produce any good outcome," a model and designer from the country who was granted refugee status in Japan in 1993 told reporters Friday in Tokyo.

Despite reports that an estimated 1.5 million were affected by last week's cyclone, which claimed thousands of lives, Myanmar's military regime will hold a national referendum Saturday on a bill to establish a new constitution that will strengthen the junta's control over the country.

"I was able to phone my relatives (Tuesday). They told me there is a severe water shortage in their area," Zarny Shibuya, 23, said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.

"They told me that uniformed soldiers are going door-to-door selling bottled water to the public."

Shibuya arrived in Japan with his mother in 1993 to join his democracy activist father.

He told reporters he could not reach the same kin by phone during the last 48 hours.

The hermit regime's rejection of international aid is aggravating the situation amid the devastation wrought by the killer cyclone, he said.

But the junta will hold the referendum in most cities Saturday as scheduled in a bid to install clauses that effectively obstruct Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who heads the democratic opposition, from running for office, Shibuya said.

"I've been told that rivers are reeking" because of the corpses, he said of his conversation with his relatives. But local governments have their plates full preparing for the referendum and civilians are being left to cope with the damage themselves.

The refugee, who grew up in the Yangon area, which was hit by the cyclone, said he was told Myanman TV programs repeatedly air footage of the government assisting civilian survivors and cooperating with international aid groups.

Shibuya called those images junta fabrications aimed at portraying a positive image of the regime, "which hopes to have its presence accepted through the referendum."

Kitty McKinsey, a senior regional public information officer of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed hope during the briefing that Japan does its part in aiding asylum-seekers flowing out of Myanmar.

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The Japan Times

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