Superstition, distrust and a secretive military regime are making it difficult to assess the death toll and damage from the Dec. 26 tsunami in Myanmar, a country ruled by dictators since 1962.
"There's an age-old superstition that if there's a big natural disaster, there's going to be a new king or a regime change," says Stephen Dun of Seattle. "That's one of the reasons they're keeping a big blanket on this whole situation."
Dun serves on the board of the US Campaign for Burma, a human-rights and pro-democracy group, and is an elected representative of the Karen National Union. The Karen tribe, the largest and most powerful of Myanmar's ethnic minorities, has been fighting the government for decades...
David Steinberg, an expert on Myanmar at Georgetown University, says the generals who have ruled since 1962 have always been economical with bad news. "Disasters, naturally or otherwise induced, tend to undercut the perceived legitimacy of the state, so they report them only reluctantly or in a tardy manner," he said.
The government is claiming that only 59 people have died from the tsunami.
UPDATE: Note that the U.N. is backing up the government's report of only light damages.