Editor's Note: In 2004, Ani DiFranco traveled to Thailand and Burma where she visited refugee camps and met with dissidents struggling for freedom and democracy in Burma. She will speak to Anderson tonight about Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is under house arrest in Myanmar. A Missouri man is accused of swimming across a lake and sneaking into the home of the leader, according to a U.S. Embassy official.
On July 9, we visited "Dr. Cynthia's" medical clinic in the town of Mae Sot near the Thailand/Burma border. A Burmese woman named Cynthia Maung runs this medical clinic, which started from the back of a pick-up truck and has grown to cover several acres of land just outside of Mae Sot. Cynthia treats anyone who walks through the front-door, and people come from all around Burma and Thailand.
Read more about Ani's trip (also knows as Burma) and see photos of her experience in Myanmar.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/15/myanmar.swimmer/art.yettaw.jpg caption="Officials in Myanmar say this self-portrait was found on John Yettaw's digital camera."]
Three charges have been filed against a Missouri man who is accused of swimming across a lake and sneaking into the home of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest, a U.S. Embassy official said Friday.
A hearing for John Yettaw was held Friday at Insein Prison near Yangon, where Suu Kyi also is being held. The official said Yettaw is charged with immigration violations, trespassing into a restrictive area and contributing to Suu Kyi violating the conditions of her house arrest.
Yettaw's trial is scheduled for Monday.
On Thursday, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's political party said Yettaw was charged with two criminal counts: entering the country illegally and staying at a resident's home without government permission. Both charges would carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
It was not immediately known why there was a discrepancy in the charges.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/04/art.myanmar.anniversary.2.jpg caption="World Vision relief workers travel from village to village to distribute emergency supplies. In the months following the storm, there was often not enough land in the water-logged country to distribute supplies, so aid agencies would travel by boat."]
The second day of May last year was just another day for coconut and rice farmers in Myanmar like U Myint Khine. They were building a road to improve access to a jetty, and sell crops for higher prices in bigger markets. That one small road was supposed to change their village forever.
But something else would change their village that day.
Cyclone Nargis, one of the country's deadliest natural disasters ever, tore up the coast of Myanmar and the lives of 2.4 million people, killing 84,000 and leaving another 50,000 missing. The timing was disastrous for a country dependent on agriculture.
The cyclone struck just before planting season, maximizing the damage. A million acres of rice paddy were inundated with salt water – 85% of seed stocks were wiped out and 2 million head of livestock were lost. Ponds, hatcheries and jetties were destroyed; fishing boats, nets and equipment were damaged.
That meant Nargis hit Myanmar with a double-whammy. Many fishermen and farmers were too busy rebuilding their lives after the storm to get out to sea or raise crops. And the rest of the country didn't have the food to eat or keep the economy going. Nearly a million people needed international food aid to get by.
Villagers begin their day before sunrise, waking up to catch fish to sell at the local market and feed their families. The majority of the population in Myanmar's Delta region is dependent on fishing for their survival.
World Vision relief workers travel from village to village to distribute emergency supplies. In the months following the storm, there was often not enough land in the water-logged country to distribute supplies, so aid agencies would travel by boat.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/11/art.laurabushmyanmar.jpg caption="First Lady Laura Bush visits Karen refugees in national costumes during her visit to Mae La refugee camp in Thailand's Mae Sot town, Thursday."]
It was never going to put the press pack in the best of moods. A start time of 4:45 is so early, it’s almost a late night out for many of us. But we dutifully turned up to have our bags sniffed by a bored looking German Shepherd whose tailed had been curiously cut off (Security risk may be? Danger of flying cups and saucers, if he wags it too much??). It was then off in a huge convoy of mini-buses, SUVs, limos and police cars. A brief glimpse for me as to what it would be like to be royalty, having every major road emptied of traffic, and lined by Thai policemen. Our plane to the border was slightly less regal though – a C130, with netting seats in the back for the press and legions of secret service guys. An hour later, we arrived in Mae Sot, a northern Thai border town, close to Myanmar formerly Burma, to a torrential downpour.
Speeding though the lush green jungle along a surprisingly good road for exactly 45 minutes before arriving at Mae La refugee camp. I say camp but it’s really a mini-town of more than 38,000 refugees, mostly ethnic Karen who’ve fled from fighting over the border. Houses are meticulously built from bamboo, with roofs of over-lapping leaves. Laura Bush and daughter Barbara, along with their coterie of advisers, security guards and press officials must have seemed like an alien invasion to these isolated people. I wonder how the Karen viewed the insane rush that accompanied the whole event, 3 minutes here, 4 minutes there, the press being almost dragged and pushed from photo op. to photo op.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/15/art.bettydarkness.jpg caption="By nightfall, we were stowing away like fugitives."]
There are your tough assignments and then there are those that border on the impossible. Myanmar is one of the world’s most secretive nations for a reason.
Foreign journalists are banned from the country. Tourists are even finding it difficult to get a visa, especially Americans. So the odds were already stacked against us.
I can’t say how we got in the country but that was only half the battle. Devising a plan to get down to the area devastated by Cyclone Nargis in May would be much harder.
The junta government has sealed off all entrances to the Irrawaddy delta. Checkpoints are set up in nearly every town. For days we pored over maps and scouted out the safest routes.
Spinning with frustration, we finally came up with an idea. It was risky. If caught, we could be deported and the locals helping us faced prison time. We had to move quickly and carefully.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/02/art.myanmarconstruction.jpg caption="A road construction crew in Myanmar adds new surface to a highway north of Yangoon."]
Director Of Programs
Save the Children
It’s been 24 days since Cyclone Nargis wrought havoc across the Irrawaddy Delta and Yangon in Myanmar. Since the day we mounted our response to the cyclone, we have kept track of our progress, expressed in numbers of people reached, the townships and villages we covered, and the aid we provided.
Each day, as we consolidate reports from our various relief teams providing assistance in the Irrawaddy and Yangon, the question always at the forefront is: How many people have we reached? Every time I look at the figure at the bottom of our report that notes “population covered” I always feel triumphant. It’s like winning an election, consistently increasing our lead against hunger, disease and homelessness as we go deeper into unreached areas in the Irrawaddy Delta as well as in Yangon.
Today, we have reached a milestone: We passed the 200,000 mark in our coverage. We have reached 209,000 men, women and children — 20 times the number on the first day, 20% of the estimated 1 million people helped by local and international NGOs. We have delivered 628,000 kilograms of rice, 67,000 packets of oral rehydration solution, 136,000 yards of tarpaulin, among other items, across 17 townships in Yangon and Irrawaddy Delta. And this is just a partial report from the field.