Horrified MPs demand huge aid increase

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The cross-party group of MPs described their visit to the border regions of the brutal military state as "harrowing", warned of the "incomprehensible" plight of millions of people and condemned the "scandal" of aid expenditure that is the lowest for any of the world's poorest countries.

Burma is a forgotten "nightmare" of dire poverty, disease, rape and forced labour that makes the plight of its people one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, according to their report. They called on Britain to quadruple aid to Burma and pour resources into agencies working across the country's borders to help huge numbers of people forced from their homes and subject to a catalogue of human rights abuses.

Senior opposition MPs joined the clamour for action on Burma as members of the all-party Commons international development committee delivered a devastating verdict on the situation in Burma.

The committee said that military rule in the former British colony whose people were crucial allies in the campaign against the Japanese at the end of the Second World War, had "systematically torn apart" the country's industrial and social fabric. They said hundreds of thousands of people were suffering from "a political, human rights and humanitarian situation as grim as any in the world today".

They praised Britain for increasing aid to Burma four-fold in the past six years, but said levels remained "unacceptably low".

Malcolm Bruce, the committee's Liberal Democrat chairman, said: "Burma receives the lowest aid per head in the world for a poor country. Given the pernicious human rights abuses and dire poverty levels within Burma, this is a scandal." He said that officials from the Department for International Development did not regularly visit refugee camps on the Thai border.

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "Our Government, with cross-party support, should lead the way in supporting democracy-building, human rights documentation, education, and in providing humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable ­ the refugees and the internally displaced people of Burma."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, also called on ministers to back aid with increasing pressure on the regime to end human rights abuses.

As many as 500,000 people have been displaced in eastern Burma, while hundreds of thousands more live in refugee camps.

A spokesman for DfID said: "The UK is committed to helping vulnerable people in Burma and the aid we provide has gone up from £2m in 2002 to over £8m a year, with a view to further increases in the near future. We remain one of the big three donors to the country. None of our aid is given to the military regime.

"We work with many NGOs and the UN to help provide basic services for the poor, to tackle Aids, tuberculosis, malaria and to help get more children into primary schools."