Playing electrical Russian roulette

YANGON, MYANMAR - Not everybody in military-ruled Myanmar is cursing the blackouts.

Thieves in the former Burma's main city, Yangon, are taking advantage of outages often lasting for more than 20 hours a day to steal the copper power cables, police said.

Sometimes, of course, they get unlucky.

"The thieves are risking their lives as it is impossible to know exactly when the power is going to be restored. It's just like playing Russian roulette," said one Yangon police officer who did not want to be named.

"I've seen a few cases in which thieves were electrocuted. In April, a 16-year-old boy was found dead, holding a broken cable from a lamppost. Only God knows for sure whether he was a thief or not."

Innocent passers-by are also falling victim.

"In one case, the broken cable end left by the thief dangled into a puddle and a woman jogger was killed when she stepped into it," he said.

Four decades of military rule and economic mismanagement have turned Myanmar - the world's number one rice exporter when it won independence from Britain in 1948 - into one of Asia's biggest basket cases.

Despite huge off-shore natural gas reserves, the southeast Asian nation's 53 million people have access to less than 10 percent of the electricity per capita of neighboring Thailand.


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