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US ships standing by for Myanmar relief: Pentagon

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 6, 2008
US Navy ships, including an amphibious assault ship with helicopters and US marines, are standing by off Thailand awaiting permission to join relief efforts in cyclone-hit Myanmar, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The Pentagon and the State Department have begun planning for a humanitarian relief mission even though Myanmar has yet to respond to US offers of aid, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

"But that's all we can do at this point, is to plan, because we have not received a request from the Burmese government," Morrell said, using Myanmar's former official name.

Myanmar's military government said an estimated 22,000 people were killed by a cyclone that struck the southeast Asian country four days ago.

The nearest US navy ships to Myanmar were a four and a half day sail away taking part in an exercise in waters in the Gulf of Thailand, navy officials said.

They were led by the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship that carries 23 helicopters, three landing craft, and a contingent of 1,800 marines.

"I know it's a very capable ship for an operation of this nature. It's in the vicinity," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

He said the Essex was "one of any number of assets that could be used if directed to do so."

Also with the Essex were the USS Juneau, an amphibious transport dock, USS Harper's Ferry, a dock landing ship, and USS Blue Ridge, a command ship and flagship of the US Seventh Fleet.

The amphibious naval group carries enough supplies to support the marine contingent for 30 days, officials said.

The marines also can be deployed ashore to set up clean water stations with portable reverse osmosis water purification units, they said.

Two US aircraft carrier groups also are in the Pacific -- the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Nimitz. They are near Okinawa, a navy official said.

An expeditionary strike group led by the USS Tarawa, another helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ship, is in waters off western Australia, the navy official said.

"There hasn't been a request for assistance and the president made it clear the offer was out there, if they are so inclined," Whitman said.

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US leads pressure on Myanmar to admit aid agencies
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.

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