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Myanmar rejects US, UN pressure on aid PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 May 2008

AFP, YANGON - Myanmar's military rulers on Tuesday rejected growing international pressure to accept aid workers, insisting against all the evidence that it could handle the emergency cyclone relief effort alone.

Even as US President George W. Bush and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon voiced their fury at the country's generals, and aid agencies again warned that time was running out, the regime remained defiant about letting in outsiders.

But many survivors said they had still not received aid from the government 11 days after the disaster, and that they could not understand why their leaders have snubbed offers of help that have poured in from around the world.

"The nation does not need skilled relief workers yet," Vice Admiral Soe Thein said in the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece for the military which has ruled the nation with an iron grip for nearly half a century.

He said the needs of the people after the storm, which has left around 62,000 dead or missing since ripping through the southern Irrawaddy delta on May 2 and 3, "have been fulfilled to an extent".

But aid agencies tell a starkly different story, warning that as every day passes without sufficient food, water and shelter, as many as two million people are at risk of being added to the already staggering death toll.

The United Nations warned of a "second catastrophe" and said the relief effort posed an "enormous logistic challenge" that needs an air or sea corridor to get in massive quantities of aid as soon as possible.

Heavy rains overnight deepened the misery for many, seeping through the flimsy plastic sheeting of makeshift shelters of tens of thousands of people whose homes were sunk or blown away in the storm.

Just hours after the United States sent its first aid plane into the country since the tragedy -- following days of negotiations -- Bush said the world should "be angry and condemn" the junta.

"Either they are isolated or callous," he said Monday. "There's no telling how many people have lost their lives as a result of the slow response."

The United States has long been one of the most vocal critics of the regime, repeatedly tightening sanctions on Myanmar over its refusal to shift towards democracy or release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

But Ban also took aim at the junta, using unusually strong language for a UN chief to insist that outside aid experts be allowed in immediately to help direct the fumbling relief effort.

"We are at a critical point. Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today's current crisis," Ban said.

"I therefore call in the most strenuous terms on the government of Myanmar to put its people's lives first. It must do all it can to prevent this disaster from becoming even more serious."

The country has welcomed donations of aid, even from the United States, which said two more aid flights would go in Tuesday.

But the generals remain deeply suspicious of the outside world and fearful of any foreign influence which could weaken their control on every aspect of life in this poor and isolated nation, formerly known as Burma.

Aid groups insist that only specialists with long experience of disaster zones can ensure that the neediest get the aid they need -- and navigate that aid through scenes of almost total destruction.

Thousands of hungry people -- including many children -- are still lining the roads on the route between the main city Yangon and the low-lying delta that bore the brunt of Cyclone Nargis, begging for food and water.

Myanmar is struggling to feed its people in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis -- in part because the regime has been forcing some farmers to stop growing rice in a plan to produce .

The storm churned up huge waves that turned the delta rice paddies into a saltwater swamp, and drowned untold numbers of people and animals -- many of whose corpses are still rotting in the tropical heat.

Weakened by hunger, thirst, fatigue and the sheer psychological trauma of their ordeal, survivors face an enormous range of other threats -- from dysentery and pneumonia to wind-burn and deadly snake bites.

Although aid flights are arriving, there are serious bottlenecks in getting supplies to the delta.

The full extent of the death and destruction may not be known for months. The United Nations and United States have estimated the number of dead at around 100,000.

In an internal document seen Tuesday, the United Nations said it is receiving reports of the military of their devastated villages and into other less-affected areas of the country.

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