By Ed Johnson and Bill Varner
May 23 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar's military regime told the United Nations it can handle the cyclone relief effort, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the junta to stop blocking international aid for millions affected by the disaster.
General Thein Sein, the junta's prime minister, told Ban yesterday he ``believed the relief phase was over and it was now time for reconstruction,'' the UN said in a statement.
Ban yesterday flew over the flooded Irrawaddy River delta that was decimated by the May 2-3 cyclone and met some of the survivors. He will press the junta again to allow international relief workers into the area when he meets with its leader, Senior General Than Shwe, today in the capital, Naypyidaw.
``Don't lose your hope,'' Ban said yesterday, as he toured the Kyondah camp, 75 kilometers (46 miles) south of the former capital, Yangon, according to the UN. ``The whole world is trying to help Myanmar.''
More than 130,000 people are dead or missing after the cyclone swept through the southern rice-growing delta, sweeping away villages, livestock and crops. Myanmar's military, which has run the nation of 48 million people since 1962, has barred international workers from the worst-affected areas and rejected offers of helicopters, trucks and aid from U.S. warships anchored off the coast.
Thein Sein yesterday took issue with Ban's statement that the disaster was too great for the junta to handle and that more aid was urgently needed, according to a UN statement.
Ban expressed frustration with ``the inability of the aid workers to bring assistance at the right time to the affected areas,'' according to the UN.
Three weeks after the cyclone hit the country formerly known as Burma, the first of 10 helicopters contracted by the UN World Food Program arrived in Yangon yesterday.
The Mi8T chopper, which can carry as much as 3 metric tons of food, arrived from Malaysia, the UN's news service IRIN reported. The other aircraft, donated by countries across the globe, are expected over the coming days to arrive in Bangkok in neighboring Thailand, where they will be reassembled and flown to Myanmar.
The junta estimates the cyclone may have caused $10.7 billion in damage to property and affected 5.5 million people, Ramesh Shrestha, the UN Children's Fund representative for Myanmar, said yesterday after meeting with U Soe Tha, the country's development minister.
Delegates from 31 countries have registered to attend a May 25 donor conference in Yangon sponsored by the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Shari Villarosa, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, will attend the conference, State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters yesterday in Washington.
The Bush administration has led international criticism of the junta for blocking the relief effort and rights abuses, including the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The opposition leader, whose National League for Democracy won elections in 1990 that were rejected by the junta, has spent 12 of the past 18 years in detention and has been under house arrest at her home in Yangon since May 2003.
Pro-democracy campaigners are demanding that Suu Kyi, 62, be freed this month, saying the junta's legal authority to detain her expires. Under the State Protection Law, the regime can only hold someone deemed a security threat for five years without trial or charge, according to the Burma Campaign U.K.
``Ban Ki-moon must meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD leaders whilst he is in Burma,'' said campaign director Mark Farmaner in a statement. ``The UN failed to take action that the people of Burma called for to help restore democracy. Now the regime they left in power is killing thousands more through the denial of aid.''
The junta holds a referendum on a draft constitution tomorrow in the areas worst hit by the cyclone, two weeks after the rest of the country voted. The charter was approved by 92.4 percent of voters on a 99 percent turnout on May 10, according to state media.
The junta says the referendum will pave the way for elections in 2010. The U.S. and opposition groups in Myanmar say the ballot is rigged and accuse the generals of trying to prolong their reign.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ed Johnson in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org; Bill Varner at the United Nations at email@example.com