Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Myanmar Says Volunteers Free To Enter Cyclone-Hit Delta

YANGON (AFP)--Individual volunteers are free to travel into regions devastated by the cyclone to give donations to storm victims, Myanmar's tightly controlled state media said Wednesday.

"Donors may go right down to storm-hit areas of their choice," the official New Light of Myanmar proclaimed in a headline splashed across its front page.

"Everybody may make donations freely. Everybody may make donations to any person or any area," the government mouthpiece said.

"However, well-wishers are urged to avoid unsystematic donations and acts that may tarnish the image of the nation and its people," it added.

Authorities are prepared to help donors distribute their goods, the newspaper said, citing an order issued Tuesday by the regime's disaster management committee.

The order contradicted efforts by local officials to stem the flow of private donors, who have driven from Yangon and other towns to deliver aid to storm victims in the hardest-hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta.

Cyclone Nargis left more than 133,000 people dead or missing when it struck on May 2-3, with 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, shelter and medicine.

The United Nations says only about one million of them have received any international aid, but unknown numbers have been relying on private assistance from individual volunteers.

Thousands of people have lined the roads in the delta, hoping for handouts from passing cars.

Police in some areas have tried to shoo away the storm survivors, threatening to confiscate drivers' licenses of volunteers giving away food and clothing.

The announcement was the latest shift in official media, which in recent days have become more welcoming of aid from volunteers as well as UN agencies.

The newspaper on Tuesday also highlighted the work of the UN Development Program and the World Food Program, as well as charities like Doctors Without Borders.

For three weeks after the storm, official media had insisted that the military could handle all aid on its own.

But the regime has taken a softer tone since the visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a donor conference last weekend, which raised tens of millions of dollars in cyclone aid.

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