Yangon : Myanmar’s junta, which has appealed for international aid to cope with the disastrous impact of Cyclone Nargis, is barring foreign journalists from entering the country and has expelled one BBC reporter, state media said Wednesday.
BBC Asia correspondent Andrew William Harding was stopped by Myanmar immigration officials at Yangon International Airport from entering the country May 5 and sent back to Thailand, the state-run MRTV reported.
The military-controlled television station said Harding was on the government’s “blacklist” for journalists.
Myanmar, which has been under military dictatorships since 1962, rarely allows foreign journalists to enter the country on journalist visas, and only allows China’s Xinhua news agency to employ expatriates to be based in the country.
In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which has claimed more than 22,500 lives and left 41,000 missing, the government has thus far refused to allow foreign reporters in to cover the disaster, deemed the worst to hit South-East Asia since the December 2004 tsunami.
The regime, which has appealed for international aid, has been reluctant to waive visa requirements on aid workers seeking to bring disaster relief into the benighted country.
The government of Myanmar had not responded to a request to waive visa requirements for international relief workers waiting for permission to bring much needed aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis, the UN said Tuesday.
The UN had asked the government in Myanmar to waive visas for relief workers assembled in nearby Bangkok so they can begin their journey to Myanmar, said Rachid Khalikov, an official of the UN emergency relief department at UN headquarters in New York. But the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok was closed on Monday for a Thai holiday.
“So far, there were no instructions for visas in Bangkok,” Khalikov said.
In the past other countries have waived visa requirements to aid workers in relief efforts, such as Iran did following the devastating December 2003 earthquake.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962 when General Ne Win staged a coup that overthrew the elected government of the country’s first post-independence prime minister U Nu, and launched the country along the economically disastrous “Burmese Road to Socialism”.
Ne Win enforced a policy of xenophobic isolationism, which was officially dropped along with socialism in 1988, but the habit of aloofness from the world community has persisted under the current crop of military leaders.