Myanmar’s junta threatens media that don’t report official cyclone death numbers

Junta says 100 Rohingya died from Cyclone Mocha, but others have counted more than 400.
By RFA Burmese
2023.05.19
Myanmar’s junta threatens media that don’t report official cyclone death numbers People carry the body of a Cyclone Mocha victim during a funeral near the Basara Rohingya camp in Sittwe, Rakhine state, Myanmar, on May 16, 2023.
Credit: AFP

Myanmar’s junta says that 100 Rohingya died from last weekend’s Cyclone Mocha – and that news outlets that say it’s higher will be sued.

The shadow National Unity Government, made up of former parliamentarians and opponents of the military, which took control of the country in a 2021 coup, puts the number at 455 – more than four times higher.

Reports by media that more than 400 were killed “were baseless and have frightened the public,” a junta statement Friday said. “We will take action against those media using existing laws.”

The storm that hit the coast of Rakhine state and parts of Bangladesh last weekend, flooded villages and battered camps where displaced Rohingya have lived for years.

Authorities evacuated the Rakhine population before the storm and accommodated 63,302 of the 125,789 Rohingyas from 17 refugee camps who needed to be evacuated, the junta statement said.

Those who died in the storm were people who didn’t comply with the authority’s evacuation procedure and remained in their homes on their own accord, the military said. 

Radio Free Asia reported earlier this week that many people couldn’t evacuate because emergency shelter centers quickly became overcrowded.

Some 130,000 Rohingya have lived for more than a decade in internally displaced persons camps in and around Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine. 

The deaths of so many villagers from the storm was a result of their poor living standards in restricted camps near the seashore, Rohingya activists told RFA. Many villagers weren’t properly informed of the coming cyclone, they said.

Two Rohingya villagers told RFA that it has been difficult to collect every dead body that was washed into the sea after the storm struck the coast. 

The junta said Friday that 18 army officers would be assigned to each township to oversee rehabilitation work for the 18 townships in Rakhine and Chin state that were affected by the storm.

In those areas, transportation infrastructure and some telephone networks have been out of service, and there are still areas where food, medicine and shelters haven't arrived. 

NUG’s statement on Wednesday said more than 42,000 acres of agricultural land in four states and regions were destroyed by the storm. 

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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