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UN official 'disappointed' with Myanmar relief cooperation

by Staff Writers
United Nations (AFP) May 8, 2008
UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said Thursday that he was "disappointed" with Myanmar over its failure to facilitate entry to more foreign relief workers and supplies to cope with the cyclone disaster.

"I am disappointed that we have not had more results" from discussions with the Myanmar government to enable the arrival of disaster relief teams and the distribution of badly-needed emergency supplies, he told reporters.

"We need to continue to urge the government to cooperate," he added.

Holmes said UN chief Ban Ki-moon was trying to talk to Myanmar's junta leader Than Shwe to urge him "strongly to facilitate access" for foreign relief workers.

The UN official however rejected criticism that he had not been more forceful in pressing Myanmar.

"I do not believe confrontation with the government is likely to result in more help" for the cyclone victims, he said.

Holmes described the situation as "increasingly desperate on the ground" for the estimated 1.5 million people severely affected by cyclone Nargis which may have killed up to 100,000 people, according to a US diplomat in Yangon.

He alluded to growing world frustration that Myanmar was not opening its doors wider to foreign aid and relief supplies, particularly from Western countries.

"They have opened up to some extent. They have not refused entry (to foreign aid workers). But they have not facilitated entry ... It is not as open as it should be," he noted.

Holmes said two of four Asian UN disaster assessment experts were now on the ground in Myanmar, but two others who were thought to have been cleared for entry were not allowed in "for reasons we are still trying to establish."

These experts are key to coordinate the distribution of the international aid entering Myanmar in areas where it is the most needed.

Holmes said at least 40 visa applications from UN aid workers were still pending, particularly from Bangkok.

"Some supplies are beginning to arrive but an awful lot more is needed," he noted.

He said four World Food Program flights arrived in Myanmar Thursday and that 40 tons of high-energy biscuits were on the ground in Yangon.

Holmes said authorities have also agreed that customs charges and clearances should be waived for aid delivery but noted that it was not clear whether the policy was fully operational on the ground.

The United States was meanwhile weighing dropping food aid over parts of Myanmar devastated by the cyclone, a State Department official said Thursday, hinting they may go ahead without Myanmar's approval.

He said the US had already taken such measures of food drops to help ease the humanitarian situation in Kosovo in the 1990s.

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Tsunami offers lessons for Myanmar aid effort
Jakarta (AFP) May 8, 2008
A region closed to the press, a regime reticent to open its borders to aid workers, an overwhelming catastrophe -- there are worrying similarities between Myanmar's cyclone and the 2004 tsunami.

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