Into the death delta

We arrived on 7 May at sunset, flying in over the flooded and battered landscape around Rangoon. Our team managed to get a report sent out for the news bulletin that night, as soon as we got in – but we had to be very careful not to be noticed at the hotel with our camera equipment.

We headed south to try and reach the worst-affected areas out in the delta. Because there were government people in the town, we head out to a monastery. While we were there talking to monks, we found a man with a boat who said he could take us out into the Irrawaddy Delta, where he’d seen hundreds of bodies and villages destroyed.

Within 30 minutes of our journey we came across bloated corpses floating the delta waters. They were everywhere. Men, women and children. We stopped at the remains of one village and were the first outsiders the survivors had seen. They had no food, no water and no shelter. The Burmese regime was doing nothing for any of the survivors we found. On our journey back, there were Burmese army launches on the delta, and two helicopters above looking for foreigners. We took cover and hid when we had to. At one village on the way back, I’m stopped by an angry-looking government official with a walkie-talkie radio shouting at me ‘Why are you here? Foreigners are banned.’He takes our passport details. It’s a nerve wracking and tense 15 minutes. Our cameraman managed to film it discreetly. After much bluffing and trying to look and sound as calm as possible, we’re able to make our exit.

Next we head to Pathein, to try another route into the delta. We were acutely aware that the authorities now had our details. No one wanted to let us on their boat, so we decided to stay there and file another report.

We tried to head to the town of Bogale, but it felt like there was an iron curtain around the delta. I hid in the back of the car wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, but in one town the army spotted me and stopped our car. I pretended I was a lost tourist and agreed to turn around and head to Rangoon – another very close shave given the equipment we had with us in the car.

 Paranoia of being caught grew. We hid our equipment where we could, and even though it felt safer there than in the delta, I kept as low a profile as possible. I managed to make it through the airport safely and out to Bangkok. On the flight I reflected on the professionalism of the team I’d worked with. It was their desire to get to the story and get it out, despite all the challenges and risks, which inspired and pushed me. Their skill, combined with more luck than I can ever remember on a story, helped us to achieve our mission and show the world what was really happening inside Burma.

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