Local residents in the Rangoon suburb of Dagon Myothit said the Township USDA office has offered loans to its members, tempting people with monetary incentives to join its ranks.
A local resident, who spoke to Mizzima on condition of anonymity, said the USDA has been handing out loans of 30,000 to 50,000 Kyats ($27 to $45), with the understanding that only those enlisting with the USDA are entitled to such disbursements.
"With most people living in poverty, many people are starting to accept the loan. It is a kind of lure for those who want to take the loan," the resident commented.
Meanwhile, sources said the junta-backed civil organizations Myanmar Maternity and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA) and Myanmar Women Affairs Federation (MWAF) have also begun providing loans to its members.
While providing loans to members in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation may seem a noble act, critics said the junta's puppet organizations – USDA, MMCWA and MWAF – might be used to bait people into becoming members and support the junta's upcoming constitutional referendum in May.
A local resident of Dagon Myothit expressed his concern that the organizations might have a hidden agenda – say to support the referendum – behind the seemingly noble act.
He added that besides providing loans there are instances in Dagon Myothit where USDA officials threaten people into seeking membership.
USDA officials, who control the water supply in the east of Dagon Myothit Township, have threatened local residents with the possibility of losing their water supply unless they register themselves as members of the organization, continued the resident.
"The officials threatened the people, saying that if they are not members of the USDA they will cut off the water supply," the local remarked.
USDA, MMCWA and MWAF, formed to support the ruling junta, are the only civil organizations allowed in Burma. And critics say these organizations are manipulated by the government and are used as tools to suppress any dissident movement.
Htay Aung, a Thailand based Burmese analyst and researcher at the Network for Democracy and Development, said there have been other instances where the junta-backed organizations provided loans to its members, but all such offerings came with a hidden agenda.
"This time it could be to gain support for the junta's referendum," Htay Aung told Mizzima.
Burma's ruling junta has announced that it will hold a referendum on a draft constitution in May followed by a general election in 2010 as part of its planned "roadmap to democracy."
However the United Nations as well as much of the international community has joined Burmese opposition groups, including Burma's main political party – National League for Democracy, led by detained Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi – in calling the junta's upcoming referendum a sham, as it lacks independent third party monitoring.
But the ruling junta, who has plainly rejected the international community's call for independent monitoring of the referendum, has indicated it is determined to complete its planned roadmap as scheduled.
Htay Aung said the junta, as declared, is using various means to ensure that it gains the necessary votes in the referendum to support its constitution.
"The junta will do everything to ensure they get what they want. All plans are underway and they will try to post a kind of 'free and fair' label on the polling," Htay Aung prospered.
He added that by the actual polling day the junta hopes to have ensured that all its supporters are voting in favor of the referendum. But in the event that the requisite number of votes are not secured the junta still will not let the referendum fail.
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