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6 May 2009

Myanmar junta claims food surplus amidst reports of famine

Myanmar's ruling military junta claimed the country has almost tripled its rice production over the past two decades, boasting a food surplus despite the destruction of Cyclone Nargis last year and reports of famine conditions in Chin state, reported German news agency DPA.

Myanmar's current annual rice production has reached 1.6 billion baskets (with one basket equalling about 33 kilograms) state newspapers quoted Senior General Than Shwe, the junta's chief, as saying Monday.

Than Shwe said Myanmar "had not only reached self-sufficiency but also a surplus in food."

He said Myanmar's annual rice production was only 600 million baskets in 1989 when the junta came to power but had now nearly doubled.

"There is no need to worry about food even when the nation's population reaches 100 million," Than Shwe said.

Myanmar's population now is at an estimated 53 million. The World Food Programme, which studied Myanmar's food situation earlier this year, concluded that the country as a whole was enjoying a good crop in 2009 despite the devastation wrought by Nargis in the Irrawaddy Delta and near-famine conditions in Chin state in western Myanmar.

After a visit to Chin state late last year, the UN agency concluded that residents suffered one of the worst food situations in the country. Famine, caused by a rat infestation, has been declared in the state.

Although apparently enjoying a food surplus, the government has done little to relieve the famine-like situation for the Chin, a minority group, a human rights group charged.

"The government has done nothing to respond to the poverty and food shortages in the Chin state," said Human Rights Watch's Amy Alexander. "In fact, the army makes it worse by demanding food and money from the people in the Chin state."

Myanmar's military rulers have also been faulted for not supplying sufficient rice seed and fertilizer for replanting fields devastated by Nargis, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in May 2008.






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