YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar's military government is forcing cyclone victims out of refugee camps and "dumping" them near their devastated villages with virtually no aid, U.N. and church officials said Friday.
Eight camps set up by the junta for homeless victims in the Irrawaddy Delta town of Bogalay were "totally empty" as the clear-out continued, said Teh Tai Ring of UNICEF. "The government is moving people unannounced," he said, adding that authorities were "dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing."
After his remarks were reported, UNICEF issued a statement saying they referred to "unconfirmed reports by relief workers on the relocation of displaced people" affected by the May 2-3 storm.
However, Teh said that the information came from a relief worker who had just returned from the affected area and that "tears were shed" when he recounted his findings to UNICEF officials earlier in the day.
At a church in Yangon, more than 400 cyclone victims from the delta township of Labutta were evicted Friday following orders from authorities.
Aid groups said the government was still hindering foreign assistance for victims of the cyclone, despite a promise to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki Moon to ease travel restrictions. An estimated 2.4-million people remain homeless and hungry from the cyclone, which left at least 134,000 people dead or missing.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today in Singapore that Myanmar's obstruction to aid efforts has cost "tens of thousands of lives." U.S. ships off the coast of Myanmar are poised to leave because they have been blocked from delivering assistance to the ravaged country. Gates said the United States will continue to try to get aid in.