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No breakthroughs in Myanmar aid crisis: EU envoy PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 17 May 2008

AFP, YANGON  - The European Union's aid chief said Friday he had made no breakthroughs on a trip to Myanmar aimed at pushing the ruling generals to open up to foreign assistance, two weeks after the cyclone tragedy.

Louis Michel said he had not yet won permission to visit the disaster zone in the country's southwest, and had only been told his requests for visas for more international experts would be considered.

"In a few days, if I have no concrete answer on all these questions, then I can put a judgement, but now I cannot," the EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner told AFP in an interview.

The Irrawaddy Delta region in the southwest, which bore the brunt of the massive storm that hit on May 3, is largely off limits to foreigners including international staff for aid agencies operating in Myanmar.

"I requested to go into the delta but was not allowed to enter yesterday. I am still hoping to go today," Michel told AFP hours before he was due to wrap up a two-day trip.

Michel said he had only been taken to "a rather perfect, organised camp" outside the main city of Yangon, far from the flooded and devastated delta region where aid groups say many survivors have still not received help.

Heavy rains continued to pound the delta region on Friday, heaping misery on increasingly desperate people who are struggling to survive with little food, clean water or shelter.

An AFP reporter who managed to reach the delta region spoke to a man whose wife lived through the cyclone but perished two days later, cold, wet and hungry after spending nights clinging to an embankment in the drenching rain.

"She had no warm clothes to change into," said 57-year-old Ohn Kyi. "She survived the storm, but she could not recover from the cold."

The commissioner said he had pressed the regime for answers on why it was reluctant to issue visas for international aid workers -- a stance that has infuriated the United Nations and world leaders.

"They didn't answer the question, and they did not give any reason," he said.

Michel rejected the regime's stance that it can handle the aftermath of the cyclone itself, and that aid has reached most survivors.

"They only pretend that everything is under control. They are of course happy with the aid that we are bringing," he said, referring to the planeloads of supplies that have been arriving from around the world.
UN humanitarian chief John Holmes is also waiting for a visa to travel to Myanmar where he hopes to add to voices warning that without urgent assistance, up to 2.5 million survivors will fall prey to starvation and disease.

As the state media raised the official death toll to 43,318, with nearly 28,000 still missing, Myanmar's southeast Asian neighbours geared up for talks in Singapore on Monday aimed at convening a high-level donors meeting.

A UN source said the donor meeting would probably be at the ministerial level, and would likely take place in southeast Asia, probably Bangkok, with May 24 suggested as a possible date.

Despite intense lobbying, Myanmar's secretive junta -- which deeply mistrusts any outside influence -- has repeatedly refused to allow in experts that aid groups say are urgently needed to get assistance to the flooded delta.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned in London late Thursday: "We will stop at nothing in trying to pressure the regime into doing what any regime should have done long ago.

"And there should be nothing, nothing that stops that aid getting to the people of the country now."

Cyclone Nargis hit overnight May 2, tearing through the rice-growing Irrawaddy Delta and wiping out entire villages with powerful winds and giant waves that turned much of the area into a disease-infested swamp.

The regime has insisted that the country can handle the crisis on its own, and that its people can rebuild the devastated region without help.

Despite the humanitarian emergency, it announced victory in a national referendum on a new constitution, held last Saturday with parts of the country still underwater and tens of thousands of people unaccounted for.

The government said the vote, the first here since 1990, was a step on the road to democracy, but critics say it will only tighten the military's grip on power.

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