Burma's rice bowl is empty. Dwindling supplies of the staple food and traditional pillar of the economy triggered last week's bloody insurrection against the socialist government.
As Burma's military-led ruling party and parliament met in Rangoon Friday to choose the third leader in 25 days, moderate civilian Maung Maung, diplomats and foreign businessmen said the country of nearly 40 million people was going hungry.Looting of rice stores was the first criminal act reported after the mass protests and collapse of social order across the country last week. Hospital officials told diplomats at least 3,000 people were killed in Rangoon alone when troops fired into crowds.
Diplomats and businessmen said rice was being grown but was not reaching the markets after more than a quarter of a century of political repression and economic mismanagement.
They said it was ironically an inept attempt to free the rice trade from the fetters of state control last year that finally blocked an ever-dwindling domestic supply line. Exports, once the world's biggest, had already collapsed because of falling production, a failed distribution system and the the artificially low exchange rate of the Kyat currency.
Exports have fallen to virtually nothing from about 1.7 million tons when the socialist military rulers seized power in 1962.
One prominent foreign rice trader said only 10,000 to 15,000 tons had been exported so far this year, and the annual total, including low- quality broken rice, was not expected to top 50,000 tons - half the amount neighboring Thailand exports in a week.