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June 20, 2008

FAO: Myanmar farmers risk missing planting season

A three-week assessment carried out by a technical team from the United
Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showed at least US$83 million is needed to provide immediate assistance to farmers and fishermen affected by the May 2 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar as over 52,000 farmers are at risk of missing the paddy planting season by next month.

The UN agency said that if new crop could not be planted in the farmers' 183,000 hectares of padi field, the nation could lose about half a million metric tonnes of rice or two percent of the country's total production.

"Two percent may look small but it could be fatal as these families have no
other means of income and food source. This is the most vulnerable group in 11 townships in the Irrawaddy delta that we surveyed, which has about 570,000 hectares submerged in water," said Albert Lieberg, who headed the team.

Lieberg told a press conference in Bangkok Wednesday that about 85 percent of seeds were also damaged but there were no signs of government warehouses being destroyed by the cyclone.

"Our recommendation is more of life saving and we are not looking at the
total recovery of the agriculture sector. It consists of assistance like seed
and fertiliser," he said.

Meanwhile, Myanmar's ruling military junta detained 12 opposition party members who called for the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she marked her 63rd birthday Thursday, the Associated Press quoted witnesses as saying.

The 12 people were taken into a truck after dozens of Suu Kyi's supporters gathered outside National League for Democracy party's headquarters in Yangon, witnesses said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals. Some of those detained were punched and beaten before being taken away, they said.

The protesters shouted slogans calling for the government to immediately release Suu Kyi "who has been unfairly detained." Last month, the junta extended the house arrest of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for a sixth year, despite international protests.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday renewed calls for Suu Kyi's release, calling it essential.

In Myanmar, supporters of Suu Kyi who gathered to mark her birthday quickly dispersed - some running back into party headquarters - after more than a hundred pro-junta thugs approached in six trucks.

Suu Kyi has spent more than 12 of the last 18 years under detention. Her party swept national elections in 1990 but the ruling junta refused to honor the results.

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