UN chief heads for Myanmar

Ban Ki-moon warns that vast majority of cyclone survivors have yet to receive aid.

    The UN chief says the cyclone may present a worse humanitarian crisis than the 2004 tsunami [Reuters]

    Ban is also hoping to hold talks with Myanmar's reclusive leader, Senior General Than Shwe, in an effort to persuade the country's military government to allow greater access to international relief efforts.

     

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    On Wednesday Myanmar announced that it would not accept aid from US warships and military helicopters waiting off the coast of the country, although it said it would allow UN allow helicopters to begin delivering food to survivors.

     

    A statement carried in Myanmar's state media said aid carried on US warships had "strings attached".

     

    US naval vessels have been waiting offshore for several days, prepared to airlift medical supplies, food and emergency shelter to regions devastated by the cyclone.

     

    "The strings attached to the relief supplies carried by warships and military helicopters are not acceptable to the Myanmar people. We can manage by ourselves," the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Wednesday.

     

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    However, it added that other forms of US aid were welcome.

     

    The US is presently airlifting supplies to Yangon, Myanmar's former capital, from Thailand on C-130 cargo aircraft at a rate of about five flights a day.

     

    But transporting supplies from Yangon to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta is proving difficult.

     

    Myanmar has said it will allow nine helicopters from the World Food Programme to begin operations in cyclone-hit areas that had so far been largely inaccessible.

     

    The official death toll from Cyclone Nargis stands at about 78,000 but aid agencies believe the number to be higher. Another 56,000 people are still missing.

     

    During his visit, the UN secretary general is expected to see for himself the precarious situation facing survivors in the Irrawaddy delta.

     

    The delta bore the full force of the storm, but aid agencies say that the threat to survivors from disease, malnutrition and exposure to the elements could be even more deadly than the cyclone itself.

     

    On Sunday Ban will co-chair a donors' conference in Yangon organised by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean).

     

    US doubts

     

    The UN says only a quarter of those in need
    have received any international [AFP]

    The US, however, has questioned the relevance of the fundraising conference, saying it is more important for Yangon to increased access to disaster-hit areas.

     

    "Without an adequate and independent assessment of the situation and current needs, as well as a commitment by the regime to provide the necessary access, a pledging conference is unlikely to produce the results we seek," Scot Marciel, the US envoy to Asean, told a congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday.

     

    John Terrett, Al Jazeera's correspondent in New York, said the conference may be flawed by splits within Asean.

     

    Nations like Indonesia and the Philippines are critical of the lack of intervention in Myanmar, but other countries like Laos, Cambodia and Thailand say events in Myanmar are an internal issue, he said.

     

    Asean had earlier come under criticism for failing to persuade Myanmar's ruling generals to overcome their suspicion of outsiders and allow foreign aid workers access to the country.

     

    On Tuesday Myanmar declared three days of national mourning for the tens of thousands of victims of Cyclone Nargis, more than two weeks after the storm swept through the country.

     

    The move was seen as a possible indication that the country's military rulers are finally beginning to acknowledge the scale of the disaster and may be more willing to allow in foreign help.

     

    The government says losses from the storm have exceeded $10bn.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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