US aid trickles into Burma, much more needed

The US flew a first load of relief supplies into Rangoon on Monday and pledged a further $13 million in aid for the victims of cyclone Nargis. In the Thai border town of Mae Sot, US Marines are getting ready to step in. (Report : N. Rushworth)


The first U.S. military aid flight to Burma landed in Rangoon on Monday but emergency supplies remained at a trickle for 1.5 million people facing hunger and disease in the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta.

The C-130 military transport plane left Thailand's U-Tapao air base carrying 12 tonnes of water, mosquito nets and blankets.

Meanwhile, 250 kilometers away from Rangoon, US Marines were gearing up for action. From the Mae Sot military base, on the Thai side of the Burmese border, they hoped for a green light from Burma's regime to open a humanitarian corridor to the delta region.

FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Payen met those men as they were preparing a huge relief operation.

"We are doing an assessment of the airfield, to see if it can support different kinds of aircrafts. And the High Command will make a decision," a US Marines officer there told Payen.

As the Burmese dictatorship's main international opponents, the Americans are far from being welcome.

A Burmese informer told them: "The leaders know you are making the survey in this area. Now the Burmese side is worried, worried about the American army coming inside. The army, the police are all worried, you know…"

Yet Payen witnessed that "thousands of soldiers are ready to be deployed".

UN Pressure on the junta

Tend days after cyclone Nargis caused at least 31,938 deaths, according to the latest official figures, and left 2 million homeless, relief efforts have been slightly stepped up since Sunday.

The UN has been conducting painstakingly slow negotiations with Burma's junta, accusing the country's rulers of rejecting international efforts to help the disaster's survivors as they face disease and famine.

At the United Nations in New York, Ban delivered his most critical comments so far of the Myanmar authorities' response.

"Today is the eleventh day since ... Nargis hit Myanmar," Ban told reporters. "I want to register my deep concern - and immense frustration - at the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis."

"We are at a critical point," he said. "Unless more aid gets into the country very quickly, we face an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dwarf today's crisis."

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