- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

BURMA (AP) — After weeks of international pressure, Burma agreed to let in medical teams from neighboring countries and give the Association of Southeast Asian Nations some oversight of foreign aid distribution, the regional bloc announced yesterday.

The junta continued to bar foreign U.N. staff from the devastated Irrawaddy delta even as it bowed to criticism of its refusal to accept foreign assistance. The United Nations said after a brief tour of the delta by its humanitarian chief that conditions there were “terrible,” with hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims suffering from hunger, disease and lack of shelter.

Burma said it would open its doors to teams from the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo told reporters after an emergency meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Singapore.

“This mechanism will facilitate the effective distribution and utilization of assistance from the international community,” Mr. Yeo said at a news conference.

The bloc will work with the United Nations to hold an aid donor conference Sunday in Rangoon.

The junta announced a three-day mourning period for cyclone victims starting today.

China began three days of mourning yesterday for the more than 32,000 dead from an earthquake in Sichuan province last week.

Burma’s military regime also allowed the U.N. humanitarian chief into the Irrawaddy delta for a brief tour yesterday, a U.N. official said.

John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, flew by helicopter to the delta before returning to Burma’s largest city, Rangoon, to meet with international aid agencies, said a U.N. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press.

Others, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also will be allowed into the disaster zone this week.

An Asian diplomat said Burma has invited at least three representatives of several countries to tour the delta Friday. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the news had not been made public.

Mr. Ban is to travel to the delta after his scheduled arrival in the country tomorrow, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

Junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe had refused to take telephone calls from Mr. Ban and had not responded to two letters from him, Ms. Montas said. Mr. Holmes, who arrived in Rangoon on Sunday, was to deliver a third letter about how the United Nations can assist the government’s immediate and long-term relief effort.

Amanda Pitt, a U.N. spokeswoman in Bangkok, said the world body is seeing “some progress in terms of pipelines starting to come through” but that the aid operation was still unsatisfactory.

“We’re not satisfied with it, nobody is. We can see the situation is terrible,” she said.

At least 78,000 people were killed in the May 2-3 storm and 56,000 are missing.

European Union nations have warned that the junta could be committing a crime against humanity by blocking aid intended for up to 2.5 million survivors faced with hunger, loss of their homes and potential outbreaks of deadly diseases.

But signs have appeared that the generals might be listening to the chorus of criticism.

A team of 50 Chinese medics arrived in Rangoon on Sunday night, following in the footsteps of medical personnel from India and Thailand, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. Yesterday, some 30 Thai doctors and nurses began working in the delta.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the U.S. has sent 31 flights to Burma carrying water, blankets, insecticide-treated bed nets and other supplies, enough to help 100,000 people.

The aid is controlled by Burma’s government after it lands in the country.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide