Asean leadership may help aid flow in Myanmar
Lee Siew Hua
Tue, May 27, 2008
The Straits Times
ASEAN'S leadership in the global drive to help Myanmar's cyclone victims is a hopeful sign that aid will now be distributed in a 'more systematic' way, said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed.

Asean, seeking to bridge the deep mistrust between Myanmar and international donors, set up a new structure last week for aid to flow smoothly into the country.

Yesterday, Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong asked about the safeguards to ensure that Singapore's aid will reach Cyclone Nargis survivors.

Mr Zainul noted that Singapore, along with other donors, had handed over aid to the Myanmar authorities, who know the ground.

'But we must accept the fact that there is no alternative to working through the Myanmar authorities,' he said.

'They know the local situation better than anyone else, and will have to be accountable to their own people,' he added.

Probing him further, Mr Siew asked if the Republic would seek fresh assurances on transparent aid flows before releasing an extra US$5 million (S$6.8 million) of aid that it pledged at Sunday's international donors' conference in Yangon.

The minister observed that a number of donors were willing to pledge more on Sunday, but wanted similar assurances. They wished to know the full extent of needs too.

'Asean is looking into all these questions,' he said. 'We will do our best to ensure that the donations...will be well-utilised and distributed,' he promised.

Singapore's first tranche of US$200,000 was delivered by May 10, a week after the cyclone struck on May 3.

Last week, it sent a medical team of 24 members.

At Sunday's donors' conference, Singapore pledged US$5 million and offered more help, including logistics, Chinook transport helicopters and water purification units.

Another five MPs wanted to know how Myanmar's inclusion in Asean has affected the regional grouping's credibility.

Mr Zainul's overarching response was even-handed: While Asean recognises the challenges of dealing with a regime that has its own way of managing situations, the grouping has stayed unified and progressed.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked if Myanmar's delay in accepting aid breaches the spirit of the Asean Charter.

Mr Zainul said Asean stepped in to help Myanmar based on the values and standards spelt out in the charter. It expects Myanmar to cooperate fully with Asean in the same spirit and also with the international community.

'Myanmar has been a challenge to Asean,' he acknowledged. 'They have been found wanting by the international community.'

But Asean knows it needs the 'understanding, trust and confidence' of Myanmar to work better with it.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) wanted to know if Myanmar had contributed value to Asean or if its international reputation had been a burden.

Mr Zainul's response: 'The fact that Myanmar continues to be a member of Asean to me is a contribution.'

Asean has stayed cohesive despite Myanmar and other challenges, he said.

In the same vein, when Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) asked if Asean has advanced or regressed, he said: 'We have shown that Asean can work together with Myanmar, and Myanmar is willing to play along with Asean.

'But, at the same time, we also have to understand some of the concerns Myanmar has in facing the international community.'

Asean's progress is recognised the world over, he maintained. It is held up as a 'model' of a regional grouping.


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