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. US warships with aid for Myanmar could depart soon: admiral

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 28, 2008
US warships carrying relief supplies could leave the waters off Myanmar within days unless its military government relents and accepts greater US assistance, the top US commander in the region said Wednesday.

Admiral Timothy Keating, who heads the US Pacific Command, said he would make a recommendation to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on what to do with the USS Essex and three other ships "very soon."

"Absent a green light from Burmese officials, I don't think she will be there for weeks," he told a news conference. "A couple of days and then we'll see."

The Essex, an amphibious assault ship, has been off the coast of Myanmar for two weeks with a dozen helicopters, landing craft and marines that the United States has offered to use to distribute relief to cyclone victims.

The May 2 cyclone left an estimated 133,000 dead or missing in Myanmar, which US officials refer to by its previous official name, Burma.

So far, Myanmar's military junta has rebuffed aid from the ships or the use of US military helicopters to move supplies to storm stricken areas, allowing only five flights a day by US Air Force C-130 aircraft into Yangon.

The commander of a US military task force in the region has sought the cooperation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in moving the supplies, the admiral said.

Keating said the US military also would consider unloading supplies from the ships onto smaller local craft.

Chinese military and foreign affairs officials have relayed messages to the Myanmar junta from the United States as well, Keating said.

"A lot of folks are putting intense pressure on Burmese leaders. We'll take whatever we can get. We want to provide aid. We want to do it now. We've been ready for weeks," Keating said.

He said assessments by non-governmental aid groups who are able to move more freely around the countryside and the US Embassy in Yangon indicate there is still a need for the assistance.

"There are still folks, principally in the Irrawaddy, many of them young, very young, whose moms and dads may not be alive anymore ... who need the most bare-boned essentials, food, and water, and shelter," he said.

"And we can provide all of those in significant quantity for ... a reasonable period of time.

"So we believe there is still a mission for us. As to how much longer that situation will recommend our staying, that's what we're assessing right now."

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