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July 19, 2008

Myanmar: UN ending aid flights 'will hurt' relief efforts
A United Nations decision to end aid flights to Myanmar next month could hurt relief efforts already struggling to reach millions of survivors with adequate food and water, the Associated Press quoted humanitarian groups as saying Friday.

The UN plans to stop aid flights between Thailand's Don Muang airport and Myanmar's commercial capital, Yangon, on August 10 and withdraw the last five UN helicopters that have been ferrying relief supplies to the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta. Five other helicopters have already stopped flying.

Without the helicopters, relief groups will be forced to depend on boats and trucks to get supplies to the delta. The cargo at Don Muang will be transported by sea.

"It is a bit of a blow not to have the helicopters guaranteed," World Vision emergency coordination specialist Ashley Clements said by telephone from Myanmar.

"We're already dealing with a load that we didn't have enough helicopters for, so now the pressure will be compounded even more," he said. "If we have to go by road it means that supplies will be delayed."

The UN World Food Program's Paul Risley said the move to end the flights is a routine step as relief efforts in Myanmar shift to reconstruction following the May 2-3 cyclone.

In a related report from AFP, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes is to travel to Myanmar next week to assess the country's recovery efforts. Holmes, head of the UN Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is first to visit Singapore on Monday to attend the launch of the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment with the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

On Tuesday, he was to arrive in Yangon and on the same day head to the Irrawaddy Delta region, where the destruction and death toll from Cyclone Nargis were the highest. The next day, Mr Holmes was scheduled to travel to Naypyidaw, Myanmar's capital, for talks with government officials.

This will be his second visit to Myanmar since the cyclone hit on May 2-3, killing more than 138,000 people, causing major damage to infrastructure and creating a humanitarian emergency.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari meanwhile is also planning a return visit to Myanmar in mid-August at the invitation of the military regime.

Gambari travelled to Myanmar in March to mediate reconciliation talks between the military regime rulers and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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