INGO Work in Burma Could Stop During Election Period
International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) operating in Burma are likely to suspend their activities next May, according to NGO sources in Burma.
Although no official announcement has yet been made by the regime, some government officials warned that INGO work could be suspended from May until October because of the 2010 election, said INGO sources.
“We have heard from government officials that possibly because of the election, INGOs in the country will temporarily close project activities in the country,” said an INGO staffer in Rangoon, requesting anonymity. “No written order has yet been made by government ministries, however.”
A veteran lawyer in Rangoon, Kyi Wynn, said a non-Burmese friend working for an INGO told him he had been informed by a government official that INGO activities would be halted during the election period.
The lack of any official confirmation is causing confusion among INGOs, who are asking whether the decision to suspend activities applies to all or just those aid groups which have been operating in the country since the Cyclone Nargis disaster in May 2008.
A backlog in granting visas for foreign relief workers has also arisen.
William Sabandar, special envoy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations secretary-general for post-Nargis recovery in Burma, told The Irrawaddy in July: “There’s a backlog in the granting of more than 200 visas.” The delays were hampering work in the cyclone-hit region, he said. The backlog has not yet been cleared, according to INGO staff. Burma’s ruling generals often see INGOs that work in Burma as a “tool of neo-colonialism.” Government officials have warned foreign NGOs to follow four basic principles—“non-political, non-religion, non-profit and non-governmental.”
In early 2008, the junta reduced INGO projects in Burma from five years to one year. INGOs must also renew their projects three to six months in advance.
The ruling junta hasn’t yet announced a date for the election planned in 2010, although observers say it will be held either before or after the monsoon season. Both the 1990 general election and the 2008 referendum were held in May.
The 1990 election was announced about 15 months in advance. The electoral law allowed 90 days for campaigning.
The constitutional referendum in May 2008 was announced the previous February. The referendum went ahead despite Cyclone Nargis and the regime barred foreign aid workers while voting took place.