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May 23, 2008

Junta asks for $11 bn in aid

  Surin: How do we know it's $11 billion?
Myanmar's military government wants more than $11 billion in aid for cyclone victims, but international donors need access to verify their needs, said Asean Secterary-General Surin Pitsuwan.

“The concern is for the international community to pledge assistance. How do we know it's $11 billion? How can we be certain?," Reuters quoted the former Thai foreign minister as saying.

"Accessibility is important to guarantee confidence and verify the damage and needs, otherwise confidence during pledging will be affected," he said.

Surin said a rapid-assessment team of Asean members needed to be on the ground and continue to report to come up with a "credible needs analysis" trusted by the donors before pledging.

The diplomat said the military government, criticised for a slow and inefficient response to the disaster, "realised the magnitude of the damage".

Until this week, the junta's attention appeared to have been on a May 10 referendum on a constitution drafted by the army.

Asean chief also said a Myanmar cabinet minister told him that French oil giant Total SA was willing to transfer aid and equipment from French and US Navy ships waiting in waters near the former Burma, reported Reuters.

Minister of Planning and Economic Development Soe Tha “told us Total is going to do the transfer” of aid from the ships, Surin said in an interview with Reuters.

Details of how the supplies would be transferred - by helicopter or other means - were not discussed, the Secretary-General of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) said. Total denied this was the case.

“Total has currently no plan for such an assistance scheme (with the French and US Navy) but is getting ready to assist local non-governmental organisations with regards to the logistics needed for the shipment of materials and food supply,” Reuters quoted a Total spokeswoman as saying.

Total has donated $2 million to the Red Cross and the Red Crescent as part of relief efforts. The French firm, one of the biggest foreign investors in Myanmar, operates the offshore Yadana gas field and a pipeline that runs to the shore and overland to neighbouring Thailand.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who started his visit to Myanmar on Thursday, said relief workers had so far been able to reach only a quarter of those in need among an estimated 2.4 million people made destitute by the May 2 storm and sea surge that left nearly 134,000 dead or missing.

Asean is convening a donor conference jointly with the United Nations on Sunday, amid criticism in the West that too few foreign aid experts have been allowed into the stricken Irrawaddy Delta to establish aid distribution networks.

More on Myanmar

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