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Junta allows single UN aid flight into Burma

Latest update : 2008-05-07

Burma's military rulers have approved a single UN flight bringing supplies to victims of the Nargis cyclone. As the official death toll tops 22,000, most foreign aid workers are still awaiting permission to enter the country. (Story: S. Silke)


The Burmese government has granted the UN permission to fly 35 tonnes of humanitarian aid supplies and a rescue team into the country to help the victims of cyclone Nargis.


The international community and the Burmese opposition have been exerting continuous pressure on Burma’s military rulers, asking them to allow humanitarian organisations to enter the country freely in the aftermath of cyclone, which has turned out to be a major natural disaster.


Nargis hit Burma with a rare violence, with wind speeds reaching 200kmph. Over 22,000 people died and 41,000 are missing, according to official provisional figures. Estimates from the NGO Save the Children show that the number of homeless could run into millions.


Humanitarian NGOs expect the death toll to rise as rescue teams gain access to isolated disaster zones. The International Red Cross Federation has appealed for €4 million in emergency donations. Those funds are intended for the purchase of rescue supplies.


The junta is keeping the brakes on


Western leaders have accused Burma’s military regime of slowing down the dispatching of aid to the disaster zone. “The junta is keeping the brakes on,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent Cyril Payen from Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand.


The main worry on the mind of humanitarian organisations is the delivery of food, equipment and specialised teams to the area. According to Cyril Payen, the “handful” of workers already present in Burma lack supplies and back-up from specialists.


Many humanitarian workers specially trained for cyclone emergencies are still waiting for visas. The head of mission in Burma of ‘Doctors without Borders’ told FRANCE 24’s correspondent on Wednesday that he expected the organisation’s visa application to go through no sooner than next Monday.


“The Burmese authorities are accepting equipment and rice, but not foreign rescue teams. Precious time is being lost,” Cyril Payen said.


International pressure


On Wednesday, France called on the UN to coerce Burma into allowing access for relief teams. “We are seeing at the United Nations whether we can draw on our responibility of protection -given that food, boats and relief teams are there- and obtain a United Nations' resolution to impose this need to let aid through on the Burmese government,” France’s foreign affairs minister said.


Washington raised its voice against Burma’s military leaders on Wednesday. “Not being able to be there to help directly is going to hinder our efforts to help,” a White House spokesperson said.


The European Union was first in pledging humanitarian aid on Tuesday, with an initial €2 million package. EU officials have also called on Burma to open its borders and to “make every effort possible to cooperate” with humanitarian organisations.


Australia and New Zealand joined international efforts to pressurise Burma into accepting international aid. “We hope that the regime will allow the independent agencies in to do the usual examinations to work out the most effective way of supplying that aid,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said on Tuesday.


According to FRANCE 24’s foreign affairs specialist Bernard Cadier, diplomats could now turn to China. “It is both a member of the UN Security Council and Burma’s closest ally”, he said.


“Don’t give money to the military”


The military junta and Social Affairs Minister Maung Maung Swe have officially said that help from international humanitarian missions was welcome, despite imposing “conditions” on their entry. However, Mr Swe told AFP that rescue teams would have to negotiate the terms of their entry into the country.


Burma’s opposition has highlighted the possibility of fraud in the management of humanitarian relief by the junta and asked that the aid be dispatched directly to those in need. The prime minister of the exiled government, Sein Win, urged governments and NGOs “not to give financial aid to the military”.


In an SOS-style appeal, the Burmese opponent insisted that donations and humanitarian organisations should “be allowed into the country and reach the people who need them most”.


Date created : 2008-05-07