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May 22, 2008

UN chief in Myanmar to push Junta to let in aid

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reportedly took "a message of hope" to Myanmar's cyclone victims on Thursday and pressed the military government to allow large-scale international aid for the 2.4 million people left destitute, said Reuters.

"I'm quite confident we will be able to overcome this tragedy," Ban was quoted as telling the trustees of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Buddhist country's most sacred site. "I've tried to bring a message of hope to your people.

According to the UN chief, relief teams had been able to reach only a quarter of those in need after one of the worst cyclones in Asia in decades destroyed entire villages in the Irrawaddy Delta.

Ban is making his mission to ask the junta to accept more foreign expertise to distribute aid and to support a joint United Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) donor pledging conference in Yangon on Sunday.

Ban was to meet Senior General Than Shwe on Friday in Naypyidaw, a new capital 250 miles (390 km) north of Yangon, where the junta lives in isolation from the rest of the country.

The government wants more than $11 billion in aid, but international donors need access to verify the needs, Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Asean has appealed to the junta on Wednesday to facilitate its role as a liaison between it and the international community in speeding up disaster relief to the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan met with Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein Wednesday to explain the association's self-assigned role in a massive, but much delayed, relief effort underway in the country in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which swept over the central coast on May 2-3, leaving 133,000 people dead or missing.

Almost three weeks after the disaster, the international community is growing increasingly irate with the regime’s reluctance to open up its devastated country to a full-scale international  emergency relief programme, complete with a logistical pipeline run by foreign aid experts.

The junta has refused to waive visa requirements for aid workers and has not permitted those allowed in to work in the Irrawaddy Delta, where most of the cyclone victims reside, many of them in remote areas inaccessible except by boat and helicopter.

More on Myanmar


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