Monday, 19 May 2008

Asean opens emergency meeting on Myanmar cyclone disaster

SOUTHEAST Asian foreign ministers opened an emergency meeting here on Monday to find ways of escalating delivery of foreign aid to cyclone victims in Myanmar amid resistance from its military regime.

The ministers observed a minute's silence in remembrance of the victims of Asia's twin tragedies this month: the Myanmar cyclone and last week's killer earthquake in China.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) convened the talks more than two weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit southern Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta region on May 2, leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing.

Aid organisations say survivors may be facing food shortages and disease because of the military junta's slow response and refusal to allow foreign workers to help distribute relief goods and provide emergency services.

Myanmar sprang a surprise ahead of the Singapore talks by floating a proposal to gather aid donors in its main city Yangon, which suffered cyclone damage, instead of neighbouring Thailand's more accessible capital Bangkok.

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said Myanmar wanted to hold the 'pledging conference' as early as May 22 or 23.

Singapore currently holds the rotating chair of Asean, which has been criticised for its delayed reaction to regional crises and failure to force Myanmar's ruling generals to respect human rights and promote democracy. -- AFP-Straits Time

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