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Shadow Minister says we need more tsunami information on Burma.

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Wednesday 5 January 2005

Shadow Minister says we need more tsunami information on Burma


TANYA NOLAN: The Opposition's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd is calling on t he Prime Minister to encourage countries at tomorrow's Jakarta summit to apply pressure on Burma's military regime to open its borders. 


Mr Rudd's been speaking to David Mark. 


KEVIN RUDD: What I know about the number of dead in Burma from the tsunami is simply that various of the international aid agencies, have all expressed to me their concern that nothing reliable is coming out of Rangoon at present, that the Burmese regime has embarked upon a campaign of orchestrated secrecy and there are grave concerns that in fact the numbers are much higher than those you just read out. 


DAVID MARK: You would have received some briefings. Have you received any concrete evidence about the number of dead in Burma? 


KEVIN RUDD: No, I haven't, and that's part of the problem, is that if you do speak to the range of agencies at work, right across the region at present, they, by and large, are expressing a similar and common concern about what is happening in that country.  


I think the practical question facing policymakers and those responsible for aid delivery at present is, how do you get to the truth of this with a regime which has a habit of not telling the truth. And I think one of the agencies that we can use is the Association of South East Asian Nations itself - ASEAN - and given the Prime Minister is travelling to Jakarta for a summit which will involve various ASEAN representatives, that might provide an opportunity to get to the truth of what has actually transpired in Burma. 


DAVID MARK: But the United Nations Development Program maintains that aid agencies have covered the areas affected, barring the islands of the coast of the country; so why would they make up those figures? 


KEVIN RUDD: Well, the UNDP obviously has staff in the area, but I am concerned about the reports from the other aid agencies concerned.  


I think, what we have at core here is a problem of credibility of the Burmese regime when it comes to any form of international transparency. I think the way in which this can be resolved is if the Burmese regime threw open its borders at present, to organisations like Oxfam and others, to undertake their own independent corroboration as well. We then might get closer to the truth. 


DAVID MARK: But you would acknowledge that without any concrete evidence, it's just one group's word versus the word of the Burmese Government? 


KEVIN RUDD: Absolutely, I mean we have at present a simple paucity of knowledge. But the paucity is compounded by the fact that the regime which happily imprisons Aung San Suu Kyi, and who happily lies to the world about the state of human rights compliance within its country, is now the regime which tells us that frankly, this tsunami has, by and large, passed them by.  


Now, who knows what the actual truth is. But I think one way of laying this to rest, would be for the various international charitable organisations including Oxfam to be granted access.  


And secondly, as Mr Howard himself heads to Jakarta for the summit on the tsunami impact on the region, for him gently to raise with his ASEAN counterparts, whether ASEAN - of which Burma is a member - can apply some leverage on the regime in Rangoon to come clean with what precisely has occurred in the aftermath of the tsunami.  


TANYA NOLAN: The Opposition's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd speaking to David Mark.