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PLA rides to the rescue again in China quake

Paratroopers land in China quake zone: state media
A first batch of 100 elite troops parachuted on Wednesday into a cut-off area close to the epicentre of a massive earthquake in southwest China, state media reported. The troops landed in badly hit Maoxian county in Sichuan province, just north of the epicentre of Monday's 7.9-magnitude quake, Xinhua news agency aid. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said earlier 100,000 military personnel and police had been mobilised for the relief effort. Eighteen planes also had flown 28 sorties early Wednesday, dropping 12.5 tonnes of food and relief supplies into the area, most of which is cut off from the outside world by landslides and road closures, state television said. "Two helicopters from the Chengdu Military Region have already begun dropping food into the earthquake-affected area of Yingxiu town," the commander, Lieutenant General Li Shiming, was quoted saying. Reports from the area painted a picture of intense devastation and thousands of dead near the epicentre in Wenchuan county. At least 12,000 people have been killed by the quake, but the figures are expected to soar as a clearer picture emerges.

100,000 troops, police deployed for rescue effort: Wen
China has dispatched 100,000 military personnel and police to help with rescue work following a huge earthquake in the country's southwest, Premier Wen Jiabao said Wednesday. "I can tell you now that we have already sent out a total of 100,000 PLA (army), People's Armed Police and police," state television showed Wen telling survivors in Beichuan county, one of the areas hit hardest by Monday's 7.9-magnitude quake in southwestern Sichuan province. By Tuesday, some 50,000 PLA troops were either engaged in rescue work or on their way to devastated areas, hampered by infrastructure damage that cut off worst-hit regions from the outside world, state media reported. China's Ministry of Railways said in a statement that 14,000 soldiers had been transported by 25 military trains to Sichuan so far and more trains carrying disaster relief supplies were en route to the region. Separately, China's civil aviation authorities said 7,450 rescue workers including police and medical personnel had been airlifted earlier Wednesday to the disaster zone on 55 special flights provided by six Chinese commercial airlines. Meanwhile, a first batch of 100 elite troops managed to parachute into the zone on Wednesday and more that 20 airdrops of food and much-needed supplies had been carried out, state media reported.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 14, 2008
The People's Liberation Army dropped food and paratroopers into quake-shattered areas of China on Wednesday, the latest in a long history of disaster-relief missions by the world's largest armed force.

The 7.9-magnitude earthquake which struck on Monday, devastating a wide area of southwestern China, has given rise to familiar scenes: Chinese people at nature's mercy and the PLA marching to the rescue.

The PLA has not fought a significant military engagement since bloody border clashes in Vietnam in the late 1970s.

But armed with sandbags, shovels and stretchers, it has stayed active -- and squarely in the admiring Chinese public's eye -- as China's de facto response force in major disasters.

Tens of thousands of soldiers have been mobilised as China tries to reach rugged yet heavily populated areas where thousands of people are believed dead or buried under rubble after the quake collapsed countless buildings.

Few institutions in China have the ability to have mount such a mission besides the PLA -- with its roughly 2.3 million servicemen and women -- which has largely accounted for its frequent use over the years in disaster relief.

The government said last year that over the preceding two years alone, the PLA had dispatched 340,000 soldiers on 2,800 relief missions in the disaster-prone country, evacuating 3.4 million people out of harm's way.

Not included in that total would have been more than one million soldiers and PLA paramilitary troops deployed to help the country dig out from freak snow and ice storms earlier this year.

That disaster paralysed the nation's transport system just as hundreds of millions of Chinese jammed roads, trains and planes to head home for annual holidays, leaving millions stranded.

During the crisis, an embarrassed government used its state-controlled media to focus heavily on the PLA's can-do spirit, repeatedly broadcasting footage of soldiers aggressively attacking snow and ice-covered roads with shovels.

In one of the PLA's largest disaster mobilisations ever, the troops were praised as heroes in 1998 for intervening amid devastating floods on the Yangtze River, China's longest waterway and a recurring source of misery for untold millions of people.

Thousands died in the floods but the PLA was lauded for saving many more by evacuating tens of thousands of people, a fact frequently repeated even today by the government.

The PLA was virtually synonymous with the Communist Party under late leader Mao Zedong, who famously declared that "political power extends from the barrel of a gun."

Following Mao's death in 1976, the PLA was steadily repositioned as an apolitical professional force at the service of China's people, an image enhanced, experts have said, by its disaster missions.

Recently, China has further remade the former rag-tag peasant army as a modern force with a more robust outward projection, experts say.

It has poured billions into hi-tech equipment and launched an effort to trim its ranks into a leaner force capable of defending the country's interests in the 21st century.

But China's history of battling natural disasters looks likely to keep the PLA on the frontlines of that war.

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US has no plans for forced intervention in Myanmar
Washington (AFP) May 13, 2008
The United States has no plans to send aid to the victims of cyclone Nargis without the permission of the authorities in Myanmar, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday.

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