Tuesday, 20 May 2008

US Hopes Ban Ki-moon can get Greater Relief Access

The Irrawaddy News

The top US official at the UN says the success of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Burma will depend on whether he can persuade the Burmese regime to allow international relief workers greater access to the victims of the May 2 cyclone.

"We hope that he will have, and his team and all those who accompany him, the access that he needs, around the country, particularly in the delta area because there is a need for not only access but an assessment of the situation and what additional help the international community can provide," said Washington’s UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

Ban Ki-moon leaves New York today on a mission to Burma that will take him to Rangoon twice in the course of five days. He arrives in Rangoon on Thursday, then travels to Bangkok for a series of bilateral meetings and returns to Burma on May 25.

He will not meet pro-democracy leaders or Aung San Suu Kyi, his spokeswoman, Michele Montas, told reporters in New York.

"This is going to be strictly a humanitarian trip for the secretary general,” she said. “He's going to go and visit with the victims of the cyclone.

"His objective is to reinforce the ongoing aid operation, see how the international relief and rehabilitation efforts can be scaled up, and work with Myanmar [Burmese] authorities to significantly increase the amount of aid flowing through Yangon [Rangoon] to the areas most affected by the disaster.

"It is also to more effectively coordinate and systematize the international community's emergency relief and longer-term rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance.”

Montas said it wasn’t clear whether Ban would get to meet the junta leader, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, who has ignored all attempts by the UN chief to contact him during the cyclone crisis.

“We cannot confirm who he's going to meet yet, because things are being worked out still," Montas said.

Ban will reportedly be able to visit the devastated Irrawaddy delta region, but will be in Bangkok when polling stations open there on Saturday for voting in the postponed constitutional referendum.

Khalilzad and Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, both welcomed the decision by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to coordinate relief aid for Burma. "I hope that in the course of this week we will see increasing amounts of aid going and reaching the people who need it," Miliband said.

"I think that some of the statements coming out of the Asean meeting are important, hugely important, because in the end the leadership of the Asean countries is going to be absolutely essential in responding to this crisis.”

Ban and Asean released a joint statement announcing that an international conference will be held in Rangoon to seek international support and financial assistance "to meet the most urgent challenges, as well as the longer-term recovery efforts."

"I think people are dying who don't need to die and it seems to me that it is in that spirit that ministers are going to Rangoon so that spirit of international cooperation is being offered and I hope it is in that spirit that the Burmese authorities will respond positively," Miliband said.

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