Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 19:17 UK

Cyclone victims' tales seep through

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Burma

Cyclone survivors in Burma
Footage of the destruction filmed by locals has been filtering through

We had only been driving for about 20 minutes heading out of the city when we reached the checkpoint.

Security has been stepped up around the Rangoon in recent days - the aim to keep foreigners away from the Irrawaddy Delta, devastated by the cyclone.

It was an extraordinary situation in a country hit by a major disaster.

Barbed wire barriers had been thrown across the road.

The police and a man in plain clothes demanded our passports, and painstakingly wrote down the details in an exercise book before radioing them in to headquarters back in the city.

They were friendly, even inviting us into their guard hut to admire a poster of the Manchester United football team.

Turned back

But the hour-long wait until word came back was tense - we were in the country illegally.

Eventually we were simply told to turn around. They said sorry but they had orders.

I think they must come to our country by international law, by force

Burmese man speaking about warships carrying aid off Burma

Our team tried another route and got down to a village that had been hit by the cyclone.

People were sitting by reed houses that had been blown over.

Members of the Burmese Red Cross had managed to reach there just that day, two weeks after the huge storm hit.

Reporting in Burma is extremely difficult, and getting harder.

We had to go in on tourist visas then sneak around trying not to be detected.

There were visits to tourist sites to burnish our credentials as holiday makers.

Filming brings a chance of being discovered.

Under cover

People we spoke to, of course, were taking a much bigger risk.

We found a middle-aged man and a woman who were willing to speak out, but only in our car driving around the city's bumpy roads.

Cyclone victim in Burmese village visited by Roland Buerk
In one village, people sat by their destroyed homes

Neither wanted to be named.

So we did circuits around the parks, full of knocked down trees, and the golden pagodas of the Buddhist temples.

Past old buildings left over from Burma's colonial past and down streets of rather grim Soviet-style tenement blocks.

There was one alarming moment when our driver took a wrong turn down towards the house of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

There was a checkpoint there too, and we had to do a quick U-turn while hiding the equipment on the floor.

The woman was a betel nut seller, with family down in the worst hit areas of the delta.

She said she was embarrassed by the military junta's response to the disaster.

"There are so many children, so many people, they have no food, they have no water - pure water - and they have no shelter."

News had reached the city of the foreign warships just off the coast, packed with aid supplies, waiting for permission from Burma's rulers to come in.

"They want to help me but our government tells them to keep out," said the man.

"I am so sorry to hear that. I think they must come to our country by international law, by force."

Rangoon clean-up

Burma's government is trying to give an upbeat picture to its people of the aid effort, concerned that its hold on power could be weakened.

A clear-up is well under way in Rangoon, scene of protests, the most recent of which were led by monks last September.

Burma leader General Than Shwe and other officials visit a camp for cyclone survivors, 19 May 2008
Burma's generals have been shown visiting cyclone victims

Trees have been cleared from roads, men are up poles fixing the electricity supply.

Soldiers have been deployed to marshal bulldozers piling up huge piles of wood in open spaces.

We saw one group of troops riding along on the scoop of a mechanical digger.

State television has shown orderly distribution of aid, and the leader of the military junta General Than Shwe visiting refugees in camps near Rangoon.

But roadblocks and checkpoints cannot stop information getting out of the delta to Burma's people.

We bought a DVD on a street corner in Rangoon, footage filmed on camcorders by ordinary citizens.

It showed scores of tangled bodies, children and babies among them, trapped under the ruins of collapsed buildings.

Others were floating in rivers and paddy fields.

There were pictures of survivors packed into monasteries, sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder, and crowds gathering to receive food and water from ordinary Burmese who had come to the area to help.

But the country's military junta seems have been concentrating more on saving itself than its people.

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