The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, prepared to head for Burma today, and urged the regime to focus on saving lives, rather than on politics, saying only a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis had so far received aid.
On a stopover in Bangkok, Ban said: "We must do our utmost for the people of [Burma]. The issues of assistance and aid should not be politicised. Our focus now is on saving lives."
The UN secretary general is due tomorrow to meet the Burmese leader, General Than Shwe, in the capital, Naypidaw, after inspecting the devastation in the Irrawaddy delta where most of the 128,000 people were killed following the arrival of Nargis 19 days ago.
Ban will press the reclusive leader for more flexibility in allowing greater amounts of international relief and accommodating disaster management specialists who have the expertise to cope with the complexity of the rescue.
Burma's suspicious regime has opened up slightly, agreeing to allow the UN World Food Programme to bring in 10 helicopters able to swiftly distribute food and medical supplies to parts of the delta still cut off by flooding and broken bridges. But reflecting the authorities' lingering distrust, officials shunned a proposal from the US that three American warships stationed off the coast delivered aid and medical help. Five US C-130 military transports have been flying in supplies daily for more than a week, but Burma said the ships and onboard helicopters could not join the relief effort.
The newspaper New Light of Myanmar, the junta's mouthpiece, said yesterday the US offer came "with strings attached" that were "not acceptable to the people".