MORE THAN a million victims of the May 2 cyclone in Burma are still without food, water, shelter, and medicine. Yet the ruling junta refused 15 requests to let the USS Essex and three support ships in the Bay of Bengal deliver aid to uprooted villagers. Finally, tragically, the four ships steamed away from Burma on Thursday, along with 22 helicopters and four amphibious landing craft that are ideally suited to bring relief supplies directly to stranded survivors. "Should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering people," Admiral Timothy Keating said, "we are prepared to help."
Keating and his 5,000 sailors were eager to take on a mission of mercy, one that the American public would be sure to support and all of Asia would appreciate. What the admiral has learned - and what the rest of the world has witnessed in the past five weeks - is that the Burmese generals who deny life-saving succor to their people can have no change of heart. They are heartless.
This is the gist of a report this week from Amnesty International decrying the junta's forcible evictions of cyclone survivors from schools and monasteries where they had taken shelter. It is the basic message of a United Nations report lamenting "a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance for the affected populations."
The crucial lesson of these alarms is that today a million people in Burma are endangered not by the vagaries of nature but by the cruelty of a military dictatorship. In other words, the cause of all that unnecessary suffering is political. Nobody should know this better than the other nine countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Yet ASEAN officials speak blithely about issuing a report on relief and recovery - at a meeting more than two weeks from now. Enough dithering. ASEAN should use its influence to push the junta to stop letting Burma's people die.