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Burma to accept aid effort led by ASEAN

Latest update : 2008-05-19

Burma will accept relief led by the Asian countries' association and will observe a 3-day mourning period. Our special correspondents in the Irrawaddy delta bring you exclusive images from the ravaged region. (Report: A. Beaumont and A. Boussat)

After turning a deaf ear to the international community, the Burmese junta appeared Monday to be softening its opposition to allowing international aid into the country to help the two million victims of cyclone Nargis.

A conference calling for aid organised by the United Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will take place in Rangoon on May 25. The international community is invited to participate in the conference.

A joint communiqué by Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN, and by ASEAN said: "The conference will focus on the needs of those affected by the cyclone and seek international support and financial assistance for the international humanitarian response to meet the most urgent challenges, as well as longer-term recovery efforts."

France has already announced that it plans to attend.

National mourning

The ruling military junta has decreed three days of national mourning, from Tuesday to Thursday. The junta's chief, Than Shwe, has made his first visit to the disaster zone.

The third-deadliest cyclone in Asia in 50 years, Nargis has caused nearly 134,000 deaths and disappearances, according to the most recent official figures. International humanitarian organisations, for their part, estimate that 2.5 million have been affected by the disaster.

Several ASEAN members, including Singapore and Thailand, have already sent aid to Burma. The junta has accepted material aid, but remains suspicious of foreigners and refuses to let Westerners be in command of any rescue operations.

Pressure from the UN

For the first time since Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2, John Holmes, the UN representative charged with humanitarian affairs, was authorised to visit the most affected areas in the southeast region of the country.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to arrive in Burma on Wednesday.

Since the cyclone hit there has been no contact between junta officials and the UN. Than Shwe has refused three times to take telephone calls from the UN chief.

Date created : 2008-05-19