Myanmar monks, priests beat controls to give aid
Tuesday, 27 May 2008

REUTERS, YANGON - While big international donors try to persuade Myanmar's military rulers to open their doors wider to aid, small groups of volunteers are getting past army checkpoints to reach desperate survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

Among them were Catholics and Buddhists seeking to fulfil a charitable mission under extreme circumstances three weeks after the devastating storm left 2.5 million people destitute, most of them in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta.

On Sunday, larger than normal crowds of worshippers gathered at Myanmar's biggest Catholic cathedral to hear priests criticise the slow pace of aid "for our suffering countrymen".

"We need the world to speak out because our people are dying every minute," one priest, who asked not to be identified, said at Saint Mary's Cathedral, built in 1899.

Small groups of parishioners had been able to get past military checkpoints in recent days and visited delta fishing villages where they found starving people, he said.

Elsewhere in Yangon, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was attending a donor pledging conference days after he received a promise from junta leader Than Shwe to allow more Western aid workers into the delta.

Critics say the seven-day visas already granted to some foreign relief workers are too short and that some Myanmar nationals have also been barred from the delta.

"One of the most disturbing things that we heard was even Burmese were being intimidated and harassed and prevented from helping their own people," activist Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma, said in Bangkok.

"They are also blocking communications and transportation equipment," she said.

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