Wednesday, 28 May 2008

UN Chief Sees Myanmar Cooperation on Survivors

UN secretary-general: 'The Myanmar Government Appears to be Moving Toward the Right Direction'
By EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press Writer


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday (27 May) that some foreign aid workers have gone into Myanmar's cyclone-ravaged delta without problems, reflecting a "new spirit of cooperation" by the ruling junta.

Ban flew to Myanmar last week and received promises from the country's ruling generals to allow international relief workers and international aid into the Irrawaddy Delta by helicopters, trucks and boats. Since the devastating cyclone early this month, all but a few international workers had been barred from the hardest-hit delta, the country's all-important rice bowl.

"The Myanmar government appears to be moving toward the right direction, to implement these accords," Ban told reporters a day after returning to New York. "Some international aid workers and NGOs have already gone into the regions of the Irrawaddy Delta, without any problem. I hope — and I believe — that this marks a new spirit of cooperation between Myanmar and the international community."

But the secretary-general stressed that more needs to be done, and full implementation of the agreement he reached with Myanmar's military ruler, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, "will be the key."

"I will be fully, continuously and personally engaged," he said. "I look forward to returning, before too long, to see for myself the progress we have made."

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters earlier that a significant number of visas are now being granted to international aid workers to help cyclone survivors.

The United Nations hasn't seen "any blockages yet" in the granting of visas, he said, adding "it's a much freer position than it was a week ago."

When he left New York in mid-May to go to Myanmar, Holmes said about 40 visas had been granted to international relief workers but now "I think we're well over double that, and that number's increasing regularly."

"Clearly, the critical question is how may people have we not reached and what sort of condition are they in. Unfortunately, we cannot give a very clear answer to that," he said.

Holmes said the U.N. believes that just over 1 million of the 2.4 million people severely affected by the cyclone have received some kind of aid from U.N. agencies, national and international NGOs or the Myanmar Red Cross.

What the U.N. doesn't have a clear picture of is how many people have been helped through the national relief effort and bilateral assistance given directly to Myanmar, he said.

"It's reasonable to assume you should add several hundred thousand more — maybe even a million more," but there could be a big overlap with the people in the U.N. estimate, he said.

In Geneva, Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs which Holmes heads, said most assistance has gone to people living in the Yangon area, because the delta has hundreds of rivers and small islands, some which can only be reached by inflatable boats.

Cyclone Nargis killed at least 78,000 people and left 56,000 more missing.

Holmes said now the international community has to deliver on the ground.

Since the crisis began, 160 flights have arrived with aid, at a rate of 10-15 a day, but more relief goods are needed which should be coming by road from Thailand and by boat as well. In addition, the U.N. World Food Program is buying rice on the local market.

The French warship Mistral Wednesday landed on the resort island of Phuket, Thailand, to unload some 1,000 tons of humanitarian supplies for shipment by the United Nations to Myanmar.

The regime has forbidden direct aid by warships of France, the United States and Great Britain which have been standing by off the Myanmar coast to deliver the assistance.

Myanmar's state media has voiced fears of a U.S. invasion to grab the country's oil reserves.

Logistical hubs have been set up at five of the main townships slightly north of the worst affected area in the Irrawaddy Delta where relief goods can be kept in warehouses for distribution by small and large boats, Holmes said.

As for the financial side of the relief effort, Holmes said the U.N. financial tracking service reports that $133 million has already been contributed in one way or another, and a further $100 million pledged. (ABC News)

Donors detained after aid distribution (on Sunday 25 May)

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