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100,000 may have died in cyclone

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Author Topic: 100,000 may have died in cyclone  (Read 112 times)
Monique Faulkner
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« on: May 09, 2008, 10:36:30 am »

U.N. 'furious' as Myanmar aid 'seized'

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NEW: U.N. top WFP official in Asia "furious" over Myanmar aid seizure

U.N. says cyclone-hit Myanmar has confiscated aid shipments

Spokesman say move will shut down U.N. aid flights into country

Australian PM says Myanmar behaving "appallingly" over foreign access

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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- A top United Nations official says he is "furious" over the Myanmar's government's refusal to allow the organization to distribute aid flown in for cyclone disaster victims. Future flights have been suspended by the U.N.

Cyclone survivors pictured Thursday at a hospital in the Irrawaddy Delta.

1 of 4more photos   Two planes that landed Friday morning in Rangon carrying 38 tons of high-energy biscuits, medical kits and other items were seized by officials at Yangon International Airport, said Tony Banbury of the U.N.'s World Food Program.

The cargo is enough to feed 95,000 people, he said.

"We off-loaded the food, and then the authorities refused us permission to take that food away.

"We were told we needed a special letter from the Minister of Social Welfare. We hand-delivered a request to him. The answer back was 'No, you can't have the food.'

"That food is now sitting on the tarmac doing no good."

Under U.N. rules, the organization must control and distribute its aid supplies.

"I'm furious. This is unacceptable," Banbury said.

As many as 6 million people lived in the Irrawaddy Delta, the low-lying region that bore the brunt of the storm. More than 2,000 square miles of land are under water.

The Myanmar government says last week's cyclone killed 22,000 people, but the top U.S. envoy in the country says the death toll may exceed 100,000. Thousands are without food, shelter and clean water, and aid workers say boats and helicopters are needed to reach remote areas.

As the delivery of aid supplies lags, the possibility of diseases such as malaria rises, medical authorities say.  Watch how some aid is getting through

Friday's move by the Myanmar military government comes one day before a national constitutional referendum that would strengthen the power of the military junta.

The government delayed voting in areas most ravaged by last Saturday's cyclone, but, despite urging by U.N. General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon, refused to cancel the balloting countrywide. Ban told authorities it may be "prudent" to focus their resources on emergency response efforts.

Political observers note that Myanmar has been isolated from outside influences since the military began ruling the country in 1962.  Look at satellite pictures of the damage by the flooding

Referring to the government's actions on Friday, the Asia director of the World Food Program, said, "This is another example of them actively getting in the way of relief getting to the victims."

Asked whether the move would jeopardize future U.N. aid flights, Banbury said, "absolutely, from our perspective, it shuts them down."

The two aircraft that few into Yangon on Friday were carrying 38 tons of high-energy biscuits, six portable warehouses, and an unspecified number of emergency health kits,. The food is sufficient to feed 95,000 people for one day.

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All of it was seized at the airport in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, widely known by its former name of Burma. One plane originated in Bangladesh and the other, the United Arab Emirates.

On Saturday, the United Nations had been planning three further aid flights, from UAE, India and Cambodia. Those planes would carry tons of biscuits, emergency ready-to-eat meals, and logistical support and equipment, such as boats, to reach isolated areas.

The United Nations has had a program in Myanmar, where there are 15 international and 225 local staffers.

One senior U.S. military official told CNN that the United States was presenting Myanmar with an aid plan that would minimize the presence of American troops on the ground.

The United States is proposing that C-130s fly into the Myanmar carrying U.N. supplies. The planes would drop supplies off and then turn around and leave. But they would conduct as many flights as possible.

The United States is also proposing that Navy helicopters already in Thailand and on board U.S. Navy ships in the region fly supplies to remote areas. The helicopters would conduct low-level flights and air-drop the supplies but not touch the ground.

Four U.S. Navy ships are now moving to a region offshore Myanmar. They are the USS Essex, USS Juneau, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Mustin. Some U.S. Marines are ashore in Thailand for an exercise but could readily be moving to relief operations.

Paul Risley, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program, told CNN the agency has never encountered such resistance to offers of help in such a mushrooming humanitarian crisis.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the military junta in Myanmar has behaved "appallingly" by declining to grant more visas to relief workers.

"This has never happened before," he said Friday.

To complicate matters, Myanmar's embassy in Bangkok, Thailand -- where aid groups have been waiting for days for entry permission -- was closed Friday for a holiday.
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CNN's Hugh Rimington in Bangkok and Barbara Starr in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
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