08BANGKOK1522

DATE:
2008-05-16 12:34:00
REFERENCE:
08BANGKOK1522
OTHER:
08RANGOON387
ORIGIN:
Embassy Bangkok
CLASSIFICATION:
CONFIDENTIAL
HEADER:
VZCZCXRO6208
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #1522/01 1371234
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 161234Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3060
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA IMMEDIATE 2032
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE 5335
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 5971
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1675
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 4611
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 2284
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 5140
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 1527
RUEHLI/AMEMBASSY LISBON PRIORITY 0211
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 0887
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0990
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0736
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 5258
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHFJSCC/COMMARFORPAC  PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
CONTENT:
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001522 

SIPDIS 

NSC FOR PHU, EAP/MLS FOR AARON COPE 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/16/2018 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, EAID, TH, BM 
SUBJECT: MGBM01: HRW ADMITS BISCUIT STORY NOT CONFIRMED 

REF: RANGOON 387 

BANGKOK 00001522  001.2 OF 002 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reason 1.4 (b) and (d) 

------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 

1. (C) Human Rights Watch (HRW) staff based in Thailand 
(STRICTLY PROTECT) told us May 16 that the organization's 
press statement released May 14 had been a point of 
contention between "higher ups" and those on the ground. The 
press release claimed that the Burmese military confiscated 
internationally donated high-protein biscuits and substituted 
them with locally produced, inferior quality biscuits for 
distribution to Cyclone Nargis victims.  Our source stated 
that HRW had not confirmed the story, and that he had not 
been comfortable with his headquarters' decision to use the 
information.  He acknowledged that it was very likely the 
story originated from May 10 press reports regarding the 
Burmese junta's seizure of a World Food Program (WFP) relief 
shipment that included high-protein biscuits, a shipment 
which was subsequently released to the WFP. HRW was trying to 
follow-up on the story and expected to have more information 
within the week. End summary. 

------------------------------- 
BACKGROUND OF THE PRESS RELEASE 
------------------------------- 

2. (C) A long-time and trusted Embassy contact based in 
Thailand with HRW (STRICTLY PROTECT) revealed to us that the 
May 14 press release "Burma: Donor States Must Monitor Aid" 
generated a certain amount of internal dissent during its 
drafting.  Of particular concern to HRW staff on the ground 
was reference to a report that the Burmese military 
appropriated international relief supplies.  The final 
version released to the media stated "HRW confirmed an 
Associated Press (AP) report in which high-protein biscuits 
supplied by the international community had been seized by 
the military, and that low-quality, locally produced 
substitutes were instead delivered to communities in need." 

3. (C) According to our contact, HRW received the story from 
a trusted source in Rangoon on May 12.  This Rangoon source 
stated that a Burmese Ministry official (NFI) had claimed 
that the Burmese military confiscated a shipment of 
high-protein biscuits and transferred them to a military 
warehouse.  The Ministry official adamantly believed that the 
biscuits were replaced with an inferior version before 
distribution to cyclone victims, though he provided no 
verification of this claim.  The Rangoon source had no 
first-hand knowledge of the action by the Burmese military 
and had not been able to follow-up with the Ministry official 
as to the current whereabouts of the alleged biscuits.  HRW 
Thailand shared this story with their headquarters in New 
York, but couched it as for internal consumption only. 

4. (C) When the AP went public with a similar story on May 
13, HRW contacted the AP and ascertained that two different 
sources had provided the same story.  It was at that point 
that HRW New York decided to include the biscuit saga in its 
own press statement.  This was despite warnings from local 
staff that felt it was inappropriate to present as evidence a 
story that had yet to be confirmed. Our HRW contact in 
Thailand stated that he was not comfortable with how this one 
sentence had been singled out for intense focus and 
speculation.  "I wish we had phrased it differently," he told 
us.  Furthermore, he indicated that many people had been 

BANGKOK 00001522  002.2 OF 002 

involved in the crafting of the press release, not all of who 
were familiar with Burmese politics. 

----------------------------------- 
WHERE THE STORY MAY HAVE ORIGINATED 
----------------------------------- 

5. (U) International media widely reported the May 9 
announcement by WFP spokesman Paul Risley that all "the food 
aid and equipment that we managed to get in (to Burma) has 
been confiscated."  The WFP identified the shipment as 
including 38 tons of high-energy biscuits.  Two days later, 
the WFP declared that in "an encouraging development, 38 tons 
of high-energy biscuits were on Saturday (May 10) handed to 
the WFP.  On Sunday (May 11) they were being collected and 
transported onwards for immediate distribution to the worst 
affected people." 

6. (C) When we asked our HRW contact about the possibility of 
this story conflating with the information their Rangoon 
source received from a Burmese Ministry official, our contact 
conceded that was likely the case.  He acknowledged that 
there were many stories circulating about Burma and that it 
was difficult to obtain accurate information from outside the 
country.  As a result of the amount of interest the HRW press 
release had stirred up, our contact had spent the past two 
days attempting to verify the biscuit story with fellow 
activists, alternate sources inside Burma, journalists, and 
others.  Thus far our contact had not been able to confirm 
the story.  He added that the same Rangoon source that 
originally passed the biscuit story on May 12 had since come 
out of Burma.  However, this source planned to return the 
week of May 19 with the number one priority of following up 
on the location and/or possible substitution of these 
high-energy biscuits.  Should HRW discover that this story is 
false, our contact told us that he expected his organization 
would consider issuing a retraction. 

------- 
COMMENT 
------- 

7. (C) Though the story of the allegedly confiscated biscuits 
was just one sentence in a lengthy press release by HRW, it 
has caused a stir, as multiple media outlets repeated the HRW 
statement, and used it to expand on their own discussion of 
possible aid diversion in Burma.  (Note: Reftel describes 
Embassy Rangoon's rigorous efforts to follow up on stories of 
aid diversion; as of May 15, they had not confirmed any of 
these reports, although they continue to follow up on more 
recent reports of diversions, many of which are vague and 
therefore difficult to investigate.  End Note.)  We will 
remain in touch with HRW to see if they are able to provide 
more credible support for their allegation, and to encourage 
them to report responsibly on this very difficult issue.  End 
comment. 

8. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Rangoon. 
JOHN

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