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  Myanmar: Time for a new aid strategy

Bangkok/Brussels, 2 April 2002: Myanmar’s military government has long been treated as a pariah with which most Western governments, non-governmental organisations and human rights groups have maintained minimal contact. The country’s humanitarian crisis and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS are now so serious, however, that a significant increase in international assistance is needed.

In a detailed new report, Myanmar: The Politics of Humanitarian Aid, the International Crisis Group argues that this urgently needed aid can be delivered in a responsible way. Widespread concern that re-engagement in Myanmar could undermine the quest for political change should not block increased humanitarian aid.

ICG President Gareth Evans said: “Humanitarian aid is needed to tackle poverty, illness and the education shortfall but also to counteract social instability which could undermine political progress. Many are losing hope, and as people anywhere without hope they are becoming increasingly frustrated with the whole government system. This is dangerous on all sides of the political spectrum – perhaps most of all for a future democratic government”.

Implementing a responsible and effective increase in assistance will not be easy, but it is possible with a concerted effort by international agencies, donors, the SPDC government and the opposition. The military government in particular must reassess its emphasis on national security over human development by cutting back defence spending, changing development policies and addressing donors’ political and administrative concerns.

Key political questions must also be solved if Myanmar’s relations are to be normalised. It is imperative that the government formalises current talks with the National League for Democracy and moves to establish an interim power-sharing administration including all major stakeholders. The NLD should continue efforts to get involved in government as soon as possible – perhaps through a Joint Committee on International Assistance.

ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer said: “The government and the NLD should recognise that the country’s pressing humanitarian problems cannot wait for the slow political process to work itself out. In light of these urgent needs, the government needs to do much more to improve education, health and development while the NLD should recast its policies on humanitarian aid to remove ambiguities and allow the international community to move forward on a step by step basis – beginning with humanitarian aid. As political progress is made, aid can be directed at broader development goals.”

An ICG briefing paper also released today, Myanmar: The HIV/AIDS Crisis, reports that one in 50 adults are estimated to be infected. There are signs that the regime is crawling out of deep denial about the true magnitude of the epidemic and is prepared to take measures to stem its spread. Myanmar needs a vast infusion of technical and financial help, but for it to be effective it will mean working in substantial part through government institutions.

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