Myanmar hosts cyclone aid meeting

Conference of foreign donors aimed at raising funds for victims of Cyclone Nargis.

    Ban Ki-moon will aim for foreign aid groups to be allowed into Myanmar [AFP]
    But three weeks after Cyclone Nargis left at least 133,000 people dead or missing, the UN says three-fourths of 2.4 million people needing emergency aid have yet to recieve it.

    'Turning point'

    Ban said at the conference that Myanmar understood the urgency of rushing aid to two million desperate cyclone survivors, and he hoped the crisis had  reached a "turning point".

    He said: "They have agreed on the need to act urgently. I hope and  believe that any hesitation the government of Myanmar may have had  ... could soon be a thing of the past."

    "I hope this marks a turning point in tackling the challenges faced by this country."

    Ban became the first UN secretary-general in 44 years to visit Myanmar on Thursday.

    Suu Kyi detention
     
    The aid conference opened hours after the government order detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's most prominent pro-democracy leader, expired.
     
    Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) said that while getting aid money for the cyclone survivors was crucial, Myanmar's struggling pro-democracy movement must not be sidelined.

    Nyan Win said: "The junta must be flexible on every subject - on politics and  the victims of the storm."   

    The NLD claims that extending her detention would be unlawful.
      
    "She is arrested under the protection law, and according to the  protection law the period must be five years and no more," Nyan Win said.
      
    "She is the national leader, she is the main person to fight for  democracy and human rights."


    'Open borders'

    After weeks of refusing outside assistance, Myanmar's ruling generals told the UN they would open the borders to relief teams of all nationalities.

    In depth

    Video:
    Going to the polls

    Timeline:
    Asia's worst storms

    Satellite photos:
    Before and after

    Analysis:
    Why Myanmar's generals shun foreign aid

    However, the military leadership is reportedly "still considering" allowing foreign aid workers to take part in the relief operation.

    Thein Sein, the prime minister, told the conference: "For those groups who are interested in rehabilitation and reconstruction, my government is ready to accept them, in accordance with our priorities and the extent of work that needs to be done."

    "We will consider allowing them if they wish to engage in rehabilitation and reconstruction work, township by township.

    This was Myanmar's first reaction to the UN's announcement that the government would let in foreign aid staff.

     
    Constitutional vote
     
    In Myanmar, despite international condemnation, the country's military rulers pressed ahead with a second round of voting in its constitutional referendum across the main city of Yangon and the southern Irrawaddy Delta, both devastated by Cyclone Nargis.
     
    The government says its proposed constitution paves the way for democratic elections in 2010, but critics say it will simply entrench military rule.
     
    Myanmar's military rulers said the first round of voting, held a week after the cyclone and which excluded the areas hardest hit by the storm, showed 92 per cent of voters favoured the charter.
     
    Some villagers in the region complained of intimidation in Saturday's poll, telling Al Jazeera that military officers had come to their homes and ordered them to vote.
     
    The cyclone left at least 133,000 people dead or missing and about 2.4 million people remain in desperate need of food, shelter and medicine.
     
    The UN has launched an emergency appeal for $201m to aid those affected by the cyclone and that figure is likely increase further once disaster relief experts are able to survey the Irrawaddy Delta.
     
    So far, the world body has received about $50m in contributions and about $42.5m in pledges in response to the appeal, said Stephanie Bunker, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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