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US leads pressure on Myanmar to admit aid agencies

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 6, 2008
The United States and Australia led international calls Tuesday for the military junta in Myanmar to ease entry restrictions to allow disaster relief to reach the cyclone-hit country.

With the latest death toll reaching 22,000 dead, 41,000 missing and expected to continue rising from the weekend cyclone, many aid agencies are still awaiting travel visas to enter the reclusive nation.

But with large parts of Myanmar under water, buildings destroyed, crops ruined and survivors homeless, the country's Social Welfare Minister, Maung Maung Swe, gave no hint Tuesday that entry restrictions would be lifted for outside agencies.

"For expert teams to come here, they have to negotiate with the foreign ministry and our senior authorities," she told a news conference in Yangon.

In Washington, US President George W. Bush said: "Our message is to the military rulers: 'Let the United States come to help you, help the people.'"

"We want to do a lot more," he said. "We're prepared to move US Navy assets to help find those who've lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation.

"But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino announced an extra three million dollars in US aid for the disaster, bringing the total to 3.25 million dollars (two million euros).

She said a Disaster Aid Response Team was ready to go into Myanmar and that two US Navy ships -- already nearby for a disaster relief exercise and loaded with water and other key aid staples -- were steaming towards Myanmar, but that a request for visas had met no response.

The European Union released two million euros in initial emergency aid, and its Slovenian presidency said "every effort must be made to make sure that assistance is delivered directly to the people most affected by disaster."

"The EU hopes that, in the interest of the population suffering from the emergency, the authorities will make every effort to cooperate with the international relief organizations," it added in a statement.

The top UN humanitarian official, Under-Secretary General John Holmes, said the organization was ready to allocate a "significant" amount from the Central Emergency Response Fund to assist the relief effort.

In Geneva, the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it had a five-member disaster assessment team in neighboring Thailand still awaiting entry visas.

"We expect them to be dispatched in the next hours," said spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs.

The UN children's fund (UNICEF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said they are also waiting for visas to help distribute supplies such as tents, water purification tablets and mosquito nets.

Australia stressed it was "ready, willing and able" to help, but Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said: "We hope that the regime will allow the independent agencies in to do the usual examinations to work out the most effective way of supplying that aid."

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clarke said her country's help would not be distributed through the military regime in Myanmar, but via the UN.

"We really have minimal relations with the government in Myanmar but we can't stand by and see people affected by this tragedy left helpless," she told Radio New Zealand.

Meanwhile, individual offers of help from around the globe have continued to flood in.

Britain said it was providing five million pounds (10 million dollars) in immediate aid, to be channeled via the United Nations and various charities.

Greece pledged 200,000 dollars, and promised to send a plane bearing medicine and supplies as soon as Myanmar's airports reopened after the disaster. Spain offered an initial 500,000 euros.

China said it would send one million dollars in emergency aid in batches, some of it in cash, to help reconstruction.

Immediate neighbor Thailand airlifted more than 400,000 dollars' worth of food, drinking water and medical supplies, while Indonesia said it would provide aid worth one million dollars.

Japan offered 28 million yen (270,000 dollars) in emergency aid including tents, electric power generators and other emergency goods.

And Singapore, which has close ties to Myanmar, pledged 200,000 US dollars in aid. South Korea announced it would provide emergency materials worth 100,000 dollars.

Sweden said it would provide 15 million kronor (2.5 million dollars) in emergency aid.

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Myanmar's generals shun US aid, see risk to political power
Washington (AFP) May 6, 2008
Tsunami-hit Indonesia and earthquake-jolted Pakistan once risked a backlash from their predominantly Muslim populations and allowed in US military forces to help in relief operations. But cyclone-ravaged Myanmar's ruling military junta is suspicious of any US aid.

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