YANGON, Myanmar Myanmar's ruling generals on Friday accused foreign media of tarnishing the country's image by reporting that cyclone victims have not received any assistance.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, said it has received no response to an offer of 22 helicopters that could ferry relief to most survivors within three days.
Along with its stepped up rhetoric, Myanmar's government appeared to be clamping down on criticism at home. A popular comedian was detained after returning from a trip to help disaster survivors and saying that government aid was not reaching some victims.
In addition, there were unconfirmed reports Friday in Yangon that at least a dozen people involved in filming cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy delta had been arrested.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar, considered a mouthpiece for the junta, accused "self-seekers and unscrupulous elements" of working in collusion with foreigners to shoot video films featuring made-up stories in the storm-ravaged areas in the delta.
"Those foreign news agencies are issuing such groundless news stories with the intention of tarnishing the image of Myanmar and misleading the international community into believing that cyclone victims do not receive any assistance," the report said.
The military regime has been criticized by international agencies for holding up shipments of food, water and temporary shelter supplies to some 1 million desperate survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the country more than a month ago. The cyclone, which struck May 2-3, killed 78,000 and left an additional 56,000 missing, the government said.
U.S. Navy ships laden with helicopters and emergency supplies sailed away from the coast of Myanmar on Thursday after being ignored by the junta for three weeks, but the American offer to help still stands, said Lt. Gen. John Goodman, commander of Marine Forces Pacific and head of the U.S. relief operation for Myanmar.
Among the assistance being offered are 22 helicopters that officials said could reach the majority of those hungry and homeless within three days.
With only seven Myanmar government helicopters flying, relief supplies are mostly being transported along dirt roads and then by boat. International aid agencies say boats able to navigate the delta's canals are scarce and efforts to import vehicles have been hampered by government red tape.
Myanmar's military rulers have allowed Marine Corps C-130 cargo planes to fly 116 flights, delivering more than 2.2 million pounds of aid to Yangon, the largest city, Goodman said. But the relief effort lacks helicopters to access hard-to-reach areas in the devastated Irrawaddy delta.
The junta is particularly sensitive to letting in U.S. helicopters, which would highlight the American effort in a country where the people have been taught to see the U.S. as a hostile aggressor. Myanmar's state media have hinted that the junta fears a U.S. invasion aimed at seizing the country's oil deposits.
The U.N. World Food Program was granted permission by the junta on May 20 to operate 10 helicopters in Myanmar.
But so far, the WFP has flown only one chopper into the country. The nine others have been in neighboring Bangkok, Thailand, since last weekend, said spokesman Paul Risley.
The helicopters were shipped from other countries, then reassembled and test flown in Bangkok. Risley indicated that WFP had decided not to rush each chopper into Myanmar due to concerns that the junta would block clearance for the rest.
Well-known comedian Maung Thura whose stage name is Zarganar was taken from his home in Yangon by police Wednesday night after going to the Irrawaddy delta to donate relief items to survivors, his family said.
A family member said Friday that they had heard nothing from Zarganar and the regime has given no reason for his detention.
Zarganar, 46, known both for his anti-government barbs and his work for cyclone victims, was taken into custody after police searched his house and confiscated some belongings. He and his team had made video records of their relief activities and Zarganar gave interviews to foreign media.
A representative for the human rights group Amnesty International said Zarganar's detention was indicative of the kinds of human rights concerns that the group was trying to highlight in Myanmar.
"There's simply no doubt this was done for political reasons ... but has an extra element because it can presumed to be linked to the humanitarian assistance effort," Amnesty researcher Benjamin Zawacki said.
In a report, Amnesty International cited several cases of forced labor in exchange for food in the delta, and accused the regime of stepping up a campaign to evict the homeless from shelters.
The London-based group also said authorities in several cyclone-hit areas continue to divert aid despite the junta's pledge to crack down on the practice.
"Unless human rights safeguards are observed, tens of thousands of people remain at risk," Amnesty said in its report. "Respect for human rights must be at the center of the relief effort."