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June 6, 2008

Assessment team to collect damage data

The Asean-UN-Myanmar Tripartite Core Group is sending a 200-strong team to the Irrawaddy Delta areas in Myanmar to gauge the extent of the damage and urgent needs of the victims of Cyclone Nargis, according to a press release issued by the Asean Secretariat emailed to The deployment is to start the same day.

“We will begin with two advance teams being ferried by a World Food Programme helicopter to the two main townships of Labutta and Pyapon," Asean secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan said in the statement, issued in Yangon, after a meeting Thursday with the Asean-UN-Myanmar Tripartite Core Group in the former capital.

After two days of intense briefing for its Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (ERAT), the group is ready to move into the cyclone-stricken remote delta areas to begin a full assessment of the damage and urgent needs of the victims.

The ERAT team which comprises members from Asean countries, United Nations system and the Myanmar Government is expected to cover the entire cyclone-affected areas and compile first-hand information and raw data for compilation into a composite joint assessment report by mid-July.

"We hope to have sufficient information in our coordinating office in Yangon to enable us to organise an expert roundtable discussion involving international resource persons with special expertise in emergency response and recovery. This is important in view of the fact that Asean itself needs to build up our capacity to prepare for similar emergency in the future," said Surin.

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are supporting Asean for this exercise as a part of the bilateral agreements between the Asean Secretariat and the two financial institutions.

The Asean Roundtable is expected to take place on June 24 in Yangon, with full participation of the Asean Humanitarian Task Force (AHTF) which will have its third meeting, a day later.

AHTF will reveal the progress and existing obstacles facing the works of the Asean-led mechanism for emergency relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts for the delta areas.

"Personally, I am very pleased with the progress made so far by the Tripartite Core Group but the next two weeks could be crucial for building international confidence in this joint mission between Asean, the UN and the Government of Myanmar," added Surin.

During his brief visit, he also met with the Chinese, Bangladeshi and Indian ambassadors to invite them to serve in the Advisory Group of the AHTF. All three have accepted the invitation.

"It is important to have Myanmar's neighbours to be part of our joint efforts in helping the victims of Cyclone Nargis," he said, adding that he also met representatives of local non-governmental organisations who were actively engaged in relief efforts on their own and in cooperation with international agencies.

According to the statement, it was agreed that their inputs would be incorporated into the joint assessment report to reflect all parties' perspectives and efforts in a common endeavour for the benefit of the people of Myanmar.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the Myanmar's military junta, detained a popular comedian who had just returned from an aid trip to the cyclone-ravaged delta, a region where a human rights group said Thursday that the regime is forcing survivors to do menial labor for food.

Maung Thura - whose stage name is Zarganar - was taken from his home in Yangon by police Wednesday nightafter going to the Irrawaddy delta to donate relief items to survivors, his family said.

Last September, Zarganar was arrested and held for three weeks for providing food to Buddhist monks who spearheaded anti-government protests in Yangon.

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