US airlifts cyclone aid to Myanmar

Military cargo aircraft delivers relief supplies as official death toll reaches 32,000.

    Aid agencies warn that disease could spread if relief specialists are not allowed into the coutnry [EPA]

    The government also generally has refused to allow international relief experts, and has slowed delivery of aid by the UN with red tape.


    Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas Powell, the operation's spokesman, said the aircraft was unarmed and carried aid supplies including mosquito nets, blankets and water.


    He said the aid was from the US government, not the military.


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    The C-130 airlift from a Thai military base was given the green light after four days of negotiations with the Myanmar government.

    Al Jazeera's correspondent Tony Birtley, who was at the base, said the flight would not be carrying any aid workers and would simply be unloaded at Yangon before heading back to Thailand.

    Meanwhile, the Myanmar government has again revised the death toll from Cyclone Nargis.
    It said on Monday that the toll is now 32,000. An estimated 33,000 are also missing.


    The UN  has said it believes the real number may be as many as 102,000 dead and up to quarter of a million missing.


    Suspicious generals

    Myanmar's ruling generals have long been suspicious of foreign involvement in their country and are especially antagonistic towards the US, which has been one of the military's biggest critics.

    In depth: Myanmar cyclone

    Why Myanmar's generals shun aid

    Disease stalks survivors

    How you can help

    Map: Cyclone's deadly path

    Satellite photos: 

    Before and after

    Timeline: Asia's worst storms

    Picture gallery

    Video: Cyclone survivor tells her story

    Video: Farmers in crisis

    Speaking as Monday's first US flight took off, Eric John, the US ambassador to Thailand, urged Myanmar's military to open up to international assistance and get much-needed supplies to survivors.

    "Let them in. Let them save lives," he said, adding that the US aid was being given "without condition".

    Foreign aid has been trickling into Yangon, Myanmar's former capital, in recent days.


    But Al Jazeera correspondents say the government restrictions on aid agencies and the scale of the crisis means it is not getting through to many badly-hit areas.


     In a setback for the aid effort, a Red Cross boat carrying aid has sunk in the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta region after striking a tree branch near the town of Bogolay.


    The boat was carrying rice, drinking water and other goods for more than 1,000 people.


    The Myanmar military has been sharply criticised for its handling of the disaster, from its failure to provide adequate warnings about the pending storm to responding slowly to offers of help.




    David Milliband, the UK foreign minister, said on Sunday that Myanmar's military government had shown "malign neglect" for the people of their country.


    With hundreds of thousands at risk of disease, he said "a natural disaster is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions."


    Myanmar has said international aid is welcome,
    but not aid workers [EPA]

    Aid agencies have said that with the military government refusing to grant access to relief specialists, many hundreds of thousands of survivors would be at risk of disease.


    "The big tragedy would be if people started dieing from preventable diseases," Mlissa Winkler from the International Rescue Committee told Al Jazeera.


    "The tragedy is just that – these are preventable diseases."


    The crisis in Myanmar was likely to figure high on the agenda of US-China talks taking place.


    John Negroponte, the US secretary of state, was expected to urge Chinese officials to put pressure on Myanmar's military to allow more access to foreign aid agencies.


    China is Myanmar's biggest trade partner and its closest diplomatic ally.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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