Saturday, 19 July 2008

UN to end Myanmar aid flights

(Aljazeera) The UN is to end aid flights to Myanmar at the beginning of August.

The UN said on Saturday that it was a routine step as the country shifts to rebuilding homes, buildings and schools destroyed by Cyclone Nargis.

The May cyclone devastated much of the region south of Yangon, killing 85,000 people and leaving 50,000 missing.

The announcement came as the country, formerly known as Burma, held a downgraded ceremony marking Martyrs' Day, commemorating the killing of General Aung San, the father of the detained head of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said that they had been told by the government not to hold the usual ceremonies, such as giving meals to monks.

'Low-key ceremony'

Hundreds of riot police and soldiers were deployed in Yangon as people gathered for the official ceremony marking the assassination of General Aung San.

Unlike on previous occasions, foreign diplomats were not invited to the wreath-laying ceremony.

General Aung San, a hero during the country's battle for independence, was shot dead with other government leaders during a cabinet meeting in 1947, shortly after Britain granted independence to the Southeast Asian colony.

Flags were at half mast in Naypyidaw, the capital, throughout the day, a state holiday.

Opposition activists have suggested that the military is trying to downgrade the importance of Aung San's legacy as a way of undermining the popularity of his daughter.

However, diplomats in Yangon said the foreign ministry had informed them that the government intended this year's ceremony to be low-key because of the cyclone.

Myanmar's military government had been severely criticised for its inadequate relief response and for holding a referendum on a new constitution just weeks after the cyclone.

Humanitarian groups have expressed concern over the cessation of aid next month, saying that nearly two and a half million survivors are still living without access to adequate food and water.

Security was also increased at the headquarters of the NLD, which said it would hold a separate ceremony.

Last week, the UN Office for Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that it was raising its aid appeal to help victims of the cyclone from $201m to $481.8m.

John Holmes, head of the OCHA, is to travel to the Irrawaddy Delta, the area worst affected by the cyclone, next week to assess recovery efforts.

Ibrahim Gambari, a UN special envoy, meanwhile is planning a return visit to Myanmar in mid-August at the invitation of the military government.

Gambari last travelled to Myanmar in March to mediate reconciliation talks between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi, detained opposition leader, amid deadly street protests against rising prices.

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