YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military government is forcing cyclone victims out of refugee camps and "dumping" them near their devastated villages with virtually no aid supplies, U.N. and church officials said yesterday.
Eight camps set up by the junta for homeless victims in the Irrawaddy Delta town of Bogalay were "totally empty" as the clear-out continued, said Teh Tai Ring of UNICEF, speaking at a meeting of U.N. and private aid-agency workers discussing water and sanitation issues.
"The government is moving people unannounced," he said, adding that authorities were "dumping people in the approximate location of the villages, basically with nothing."
After his remarks were reported, UNICEF issued a statement saying they referred to "unconfirmed reports by relief workers on the relocation of displaced people" affected by the May 2-3 storm.
But Teh said that the information came from a relief worker who had just returned from the affected area and that "tears were shed" when he recounted his findings to UNICEF officials earlier in the day.
At a church in Yangon, meanwhile, more than 400 cyclone victims from the delta township of Labutta were evicted yesterday after orders from authorities a day earlier.
All the refugees except a few pregnant women, two young children, and those with severe illnesses left the church in 11 trucks yesterday morning, said a church official at the Yangon Karen Baptist Home Missions, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of official reprisal.
Authorities told church workers the victims would first be taken to a government camp in Myaung Mya, a mostly undamaged town in the Irrawaddy Delta.
Aid groups said Myanmar's military government was still hindering foreign assistance for victims of the cyclone.
An estimated 2.4 million people remain homeless and hungry from the cyclone, which left at least 134,000 people dead or missing.
Centralizing stricken people in the centers had made it easier for aid agencies to deliver emergency relief, since many villages in the delta can be reached only by boat or over very rough roads.
UNICEF's Teh said that some refugees were "given rations, and then they are forced to move." But others were denied aid because they had lost their government identity cards, he said.
The government has given no reason for moving people out of camps and shelters, but last week it declared the relief phase of the rescue effort over and said "reconstruction" was under way.
Foreign aid experts disagree, arguing that many people still needed emergency assistance for food and shelter, as well as medical care.
Aid workers who have reached some of the remote villages say little remains to sustain survivors. Houses are destroyed, livestock have perished, and food has virtually run out. Medicines are nonexistent.