Thursday, 22 May 2008

U.N. chief: Focus for Myanmar turns to reconstruction

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Asian nations are beginning to focus on the reconstruction needs of Myanmar, devastated by Cyclone Nargis in early May, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday.

"Even as we attend to today's emergency, we must give thought to Myanmar's medium- and longer-term assistance," Ban said in Bangkok, where he will stay overnight before proceeding to Myanmar on Thursday.

Myanmar is expected to face a food crisis because the cyclone wiped out crops in the Irrawaddy Delta, the heartland for rice farming, and filled it with salt water, imperiling future crops.

Thailand has pledged to provide rice, feed and farming equipment to its neighbor.

An international donors conference is scheduled Sunday in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, mainly to discuss the country's future.

Ban, who arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday, called the aftermath of the cyclone "a critical moment" for Myanmar.

"The government itself acknowledges there has never been a disaster on this scale in the history of their country," he said.

The storm claimed more than 130,000 lives and left more than 2 million homeless, according to the United Nations.

Ban plans to tour the devastated Irrawaddy Delta in southern Myanmar on Thursday. The coastline of the Andaman Sea was especially hard-hit, and aid workers have reported that bodies still line the shore in some spots.

The United Nations leader said he will meet with Senior Gen. Than Shwe, leader of the junta that rules the country, formerly known as Burma.

Ban will return to Bangkok to meet Friday evening with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Thailand is the first country that persuaded the junta to allow medical teams into the country.

The teams are now stationed in the delta city of Myaungmya, Ban said. CNN news teams said they have seen trucks full of people arriving at refugee shelters there.

Myanmar's leaders have been slow to accept foreign aid and prevented foreign agencies from doing a needs assessment after the storm. The government also insisted that any aid that came in be distributed by its soldiers and volunteers, which went against the policy of many agencies.

Ban said Thai doctors in Myanmar have seen no sign of an epidemic. An outbreak of disease was feared after the cyclone hit. (oooooh the blind were sent to provide assistance)

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