Friday, May 9, 2008

Myanmar wants cyclone aid but not foreign aid workers

MYANMAR'S isolationist regime indicated Friday it wants international relief but not foreign aid workers following a cyclone that may have killed more than 100,000 people and left countless others without food, medicine and shelter.

A Foreign Ministry statement said one relief flight was sent back after landing in Yangon on Thursday because it carried a search and rescue team and media who had not received permission to enter the country.

'Currently Myanmar has prioritised receiving emergency relief provisions and making strenuous effort delivering with it with its own labor to the affected areas,' said the statement carried in the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

The announcement came as critical aid and experts to go with it were poised in neighboring Thailand and elsewhere to rush into the military-ruled nation, one of the world's poorest.
Myanmar was grateful to the international community for its assistance, which has included 11 chartered planes loaded with aid supplies, the statement said. But it emphasized that the best way to help was just to send in material rather than personnel.

'Believe me the government will not allow outsiders to go into the devastated area. The government only cares about its own stability. They don't care about the plight of the people,' said Yangon food shop owner Joseph Kyaw, one of many residents angry at the regime for doing little to help them recover from the storm's destruction.
Singapore Red Cross SocietyAmong those stranded in Thailand were members of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. Air Force transport planes and helicopters packed with supplies also sat waiting for a green light to enter Myanmar.

'We are in a long line of nations who are ready, willing and able to help, but also, of course, in a long line of nations the Burmese don't trust,' US Ambassador Eric John told reporters in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, on Thursday.

Myanmar snubbed a U.S. offer to help victims of an earthquake which may have taken more than 100,000 lives.
But it allowed the first major international aid shipment Thursday - four UN planes carrying high-energy biscuits. And on Friday, state-owned television showed a cargo plane from Italy with water containers, food and plastic sheets at Yangon international airport.
Myanmar's government issued an appeal for international assistance after winds of 193kmh and a storm surge up to 4 1/2m high pounded the Irrawaddy delta on Saturday.
But the junta has been accused of dragging its feet despite emerging reports on entire villages submerged, bodies floating in salty water and children ripped from their parents arms.
More than 20,000 are known dead and tens of thousands more are listed as missing, and the UN estimates more than 1 million people are homeless in Myanmar.

'The most dramatic situation is the case of children who have lost their parents. (There are) more children roaming around this area looking for their families. We don't know at the moment how many have lost their parents, relatives,' said Juanita Vasquez, a representative of the UN Children's Fund in Myanmar.

Four airplanes carrying high-energy biscuits, medicine and other supplies reached Yangon on Thursday, one of them having flown from Qatar, UN officials said. Two of four UN experts who flew in to assess the damage were turned back at the airport for unknown reasons, but the other two were allowed to enter, said John Holmes, the UN relief coordinator.
The Foreign Ministry statement did not give details, but said that the plane turned back had flown in from Qatar.

By rejecting the U.S. aid offer, the junta is refusing to take advantage of Washington's enormous ability to deliver aid quickly, which was evident during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.

The first foreign military aid following that disaster reached the hardest-hit nation, Indonesia, two days later. The most significant help came when U.S. helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln began flying relief missions to isolated communities along the Indonesian coast.
With roads in the worst-hit area - the Irrawaddy delta - washed out and the infrastructure in shambles, large swaths of the region are accessible only by air, something few other countries are equipped to handle as well as the United States.

Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, said that 'it's certainly the case that the Americans, as they showed in the tsunami, have extraordinary capacity.' The U.S. government, which has strongly criticized the junta's suppression of pro-democracy activists, will have to convince the generals that Washington has no political agenda, Costello said.

Myanmar's state media said Cyclone Nargis - which means daffodil in Urdu - killed at least 22,997 people and left 42,019 missing, mostly in the Irrawaddy delta. Shari Villarosa, who heads the US Embassy in Yangon, said the number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000 because of illnesses. - AP

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