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Amnesty Accuses Burma of Human Rights Abuses Since Cyclone Nargis

Amnesty International says Burma's military government has been forcibly moving people out of the temporary shelters they moved into after Cyclone Nargis. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, Amnesty also raise doubts that Burma's military is standing by agreements with the United Nations to allow more international assistance into the country.

A new Amnesty International report says that since May 20, Burma's military government has stepped up efforts to remove cyclone survivors from temporary shelters such as schools and monasteries. The report says the survivors are forcibly returned to their homes, even if those homes no longer are standing.

The United Nations says 550,000 people had been living in temporary shelters since the storm. The Amnesty report specifies at least 30 cases of forcible displacement but Amnesty officials say the actual figure could be higher.

The cyclone that came ashore on May 2 killed 78,000 people and left 56,0000 missing. More than two million survivors need aid, but the United Nations estimates at least a million have received none at all.

Benjamin Zawacki is a researcher with Amnesty International. He said Thursday that Burma's government failed to assist cyclone victims in part because it focused on holding a constitutional referendum.

"It's refusal to deploy resources toward the victims of the cyclone and rather deploy toward holding a constitutional referendum - as well as its refusal to accept international aid and assistance - this is the pre-eminent human rights concern in the context of the cyclone - it continues to be so today," said Zawacki.

The international community has condemned Burma's failure to provide aid to the storm's victims and its decision to block international relief supplies and disaster workers.

After meetings with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Burma has agreed to allow in more aid workers. On Thursday, a team of 200 relief workers from ASEAN nations began arriving.

However, it has rejected aid from other sources, including the U.S. and French navies. Four U.S. ships have sailed away from Burma's coast after the government refused their help for three weeks.

Zawacki says Burma's government, known as the State Peace and Development Council, continues to obstruct aid.

"Amnesty certainly doesn't see the situation as one in which a bridge was crossed and then burned behind them and suddenly things have changed exponentially," he said. "No. I think things have indeed changed - things have indeed opened up but the obstruction and the negligence on the part of the SPDC has in fact continued one month on into June. It's simply taking different forms."

Amnesty called on the international community to address the human rights dimensions of the disaster.

Media reports Thursday confirmed the arrest of a popular Burmese comedian, Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar, soon after he had returned from distributing aid in the storm area. Other Burmese report having been detained by soldiers, and their goods taken away, when they tried to take private donations to the cyclone's victims.