Friday, 16 May 2008

New storm lashes cyclone-hit Burma

By Aung Hla Tun in Rangoon - Newscom

TORRENTIAL tropical downpours lashed Burma's Irrawaddy delta today, deepening the misery of an estimated 2.5 million destitute survivors of Cyclone Nargis and further hampering aid efforts.

Despite the latest storm, which is likely to turn already damaged roads to mud in the swamp-covered region, Burma's ruling generals insist their relief operations are running smoothly.

They issued an edict in state-run newspapers today saying legal action would be taken against anybody found hoarding or selling relief supplies, amid rumours of local military units expropriating trucks of food, blankets and water.

If emergency supplies do not get through in much greater quantities, foreign governments and aid groups say starvation and disease are very real threats.

The European Union's top aid official met ministers Rangoon yesterday and urged them to admit foreign aid workers and essential equipment to prevent the death toll, which the Red Cross says could be as high as 128,000, from going any higher.

The trip, like so many others before it, yielded no results.

"Relations between Myanmar and the international community are difficult," Louis Michel said.

"But that is not my problem. The time is not for political discussion. It's time to deliver aid to save lives."

Earlier, the generals signalled they would not budge on their position of limiting foreign access to the delta, fearful that it might loosen their vice-like grip on power.

"We have already finished our first phase of emergency relief. We are going onto the second phase, the rebuilding stage," state television quoted Prime Minister Thein Sein as telling his Thai counterpart this week.

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