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Junta Agreement Opens Door To More Myanmar Aid

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Author Topic: Junta Agreement Opens Door To More Myanmar Aid  (Read 35 times)
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« on: May 23, 2008, 09:50:00 am »

YANGON, Myanmar -

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
said Myanmar's junta agreed Friday
to allow all aid workers into the
country but refused to let U.S.,
British and French warships dock
with relief supplies.

                                         Junta agreement opens door to more Myanmar aid

By Patrick Worsnip
May 23, 2008
NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar's junta agreed on Friday to admit cyclone aid workers "regardless of nationalities" to the hardest-hit Irrawaddy Delta, a breakthrough for delivering help to survivors, U.N. officials said.
Western disaster experts, largely kept out of the delta and restricted to the former capital Yangon, welcomed the news but wanted more details on the deal struck by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and junta supremo Than Shwe.

"The general said he saw no reason why that should not happen ... as long as they were genuine humanitarian workers and it was clear what they were going to be doing," a U.N. official with Ban said.

The U.N. chief and his aides, on a mission to help 2.4 million left destitute by the storm that struck three weeks ago, met Senior General Than Shwe for more than two hours in the remote new capital of Naypyidaw.

Ban said Than Shwe had also agreed to allow the airport in Yangon to be used as a logistical hub for distribution of aid, which is still only trickling in.

Asked whether the agreement on relief experts was a breakthrough, Ban replied: "Yes, I think so. He has agreed to allow all aid workers regardless of nationalities."

Later, at a news conference in Yangon, he said he hoped the agreement "can produce results quickly. Implementation is the key."

Disaster experts say that unless the generals open their doors thousands more people in the Irrawaddy Delta could die of hunger and disease, adding to the nearly 134,000 reported killed or missing in Cyclone Nargis.

World Vision, one of the few charities operating in Yangon, said any concessions from the junta were welcome, however small.

"Any positive noises are better than nothing," spokesman James East said in the Thai capital, Bangkok. "We are cautiously optimistic. The critical thing is access to the delta."


Ban was accompanied to Naypyidaw, 250 miles north of Yangon by reporters from international media, a rare concession from the reclusive junta, which is under tougher Western sanctions for cracking down on pro-democracy protests last year.

On the political front, the government was going ahead on Saturday with a referendum on an army-drafted constitution in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta.

The plebiscite was held in the rest of the country on May 10 despite the disaster, with a "yes" vote of 92.4 percent after citizens were repeatedly told to approve a constitution that is part of the military's "roadmap to democracy."

Opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for the last five years, voted on Friday when officials visited her central Yangon house to collect her ballot paper, a source at the local electoral commission said.

For the meeting with the top U.N. diplomat, 75-year-old Than Shwe wore his habitual dark green shirt, open at the neck, laden with medals and decorations befitting a man who has spent 55 years in the former Burma's all-powerful army.

"We got the impression that the man in control is pretty sharp," one U.N. official said.

When his aides suggested that maybe too many concessions were being made, Than Shwe butted in: "I don't see a problem."

The junta has accepted relief flights into Yangon from many countries, including the United States, its fiercest critic. But it rejected offers of French and American ships delivering aid.

U.N. officials said the ships were "a very sensitive idea for them -- any suggestion they should dock."

Than Shwe said Myanmar was open to receiving relief supplies and equipment from civil ships and small boats.

Ban saw the extent of the disaster for himself on Thursday, flying in a helicopter over flooded rice fields and destroyed homes in the delta, the former "rice bowl of Asia" that bore the brunt of the storm and its 12 foot (3.5 meter) sea surge.

Ban will attend a joint U.N. and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) donor-pledging conference in Yangon on Sunday. However, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said countries would be reluctant to commit money until they are allowed in to assess the damage for themselves.

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Bangkok; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
« Last Edit: May 23, 2008, 10:48:52 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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