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Page last updated at 21:37 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 22:37 UK

Burma generals failing their people

Natalia Antelava
BBC News, Irrawaddy Delta

A woman walks past a house destroyed by cyclone Nargis near Rangoon, 15 May, 2008
The cyclone has filled the rice fields with sea water, devastating the crops
The boat moved slowly, making its way through the heavy curtain of rain.

The air around us reeked of decay.

One of the fishermen stretched his hand out, pointing at white, swollen figures that floated along the muddy banks of the river.

A trail of wreckage and dead bodies stretched all along Burma's Irrawaddy Delta.

Two weeks on since Cyclone Nargis hit, the Delta is still devastated and hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting to be rescued.

They are hungry and homeless not just because of the disaster, but because of the government that does not seem interested in helping them.

Starving, dying

Sitting on the floor, next to a small statue of Buddha, 77-year-old Dohlaiy wiped the tears with the palm of her hand.

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BBC reporter reaches survivors who have still had no aid

"We are starving," she wept.

Dohlaiy lost her children and grandchildren to the cyclone.

She now lives together with 20 other survivors, in the only house that still stands amid the rubble of the former fishing village of Uomiou. One of its walls is missing.

The survivors have no fresh water and just enough rice to get by.

The rice, they told us, was donated by the neighbouring village, not the government.

"We have two cups a rice a day per family. Its not enough," Dohlaiy said.

"We don't know what to do, we don't have a boat to get out of here, but we can't stay here either," another villager said.

The cyclone has filled their rice fields with sea water, devastating the crops and stripping the people of the only source of livelihood they know.

Fixing and cleaning

Ever since the cyclone, Burma's military rulers have put an impressive effort into bringing order to the former capital Rangoon.

It makes no sense, it feels like the government wants these people to die
Aid worker

On almost every corner of the city there are units of soldiers in khaki uniforms: sweeping, fixing and cleaning.

The state-controlled newspapers have been full of praise for the way the government has handled the crisis.

The generals have tried to make sure that no-one is in a position to challenge their view.

Army checkpoints block all roads to the Irrawaddy Delta.

Foreign journalists have been thrown out of the country and no aid workers are allowed anywhere near the disaster area.

"It makes no sense, it feels like they [the government] want these people to die," said one aid worker, who asked not to be identified as he is waiting for the permission to go into the delta.

In the meantime, the UN says another cyclone could be on its way to Burma.

The rain continues to fall and many villages are increasingly difficult to reach.

No relief signs

It took us 15 hours, first by car from Rangoon then by boat, to get to the village where Dohlaiy lives.

A long trip, but clearly not an impossible one to make - and yet we were the first ones to have come.

Along the way there were no rescue boats and no signs of relief that Burmese government claim they are delivering.

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"Aeroplanes and helicopters flew overhead, right over us for two days," Dohlaiy told me.

"They stayed very low. We shouted out for them, but they did not hear us.

"We asked them to drop rice and water as everyone is starving, but they did not hear us."

In the cities some aid is being delivered. Thousands of people are crowding monasteries and school buildings, waiting to get shelter and rice.

But many are turned away.

Lacking political will

"They told me I was not in the list of the survivors," one young girl in the town of Tabitha told us.

"I don't know what this list is. There are more refugees coming but they have no space left in the camps. I don't know where to go."

We spoke in a teashop and very quickly few other people joined in.

They spoke quietly and chose their words carefully but no-one tried to hide their anger.

"I have always despised this government, now I really hate them," one young man said.

The international community is trying to convince Burma that the aid workers should be allowed into the country because no state could deal alone with the disaster of this scale.

But it is not just capacity to help that the Burmese government seems to lack, it is also the political will to save their own people.

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