A month after Nargis, junta still under fire

One month after cyclone Nargis left 134,000 dead or missing, the world still awaits answers as to why Burma's military junta stonewalled victim aid. The junta defends its actions, insisting that it is open to foreign aid. (Report: C. Moore)


SINGAPORE, June 1 (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta,
widely condemned for its slow response to Cyclone Nargis, said
on Sunday it had reacted swiftly to the disaster and remained
open to foreign aid with "no strings attached."

Speaking at a three-day security conference in Singapore,
Deputy Defence Minister Aye Myint said state media had given
plenty of advance warning of the May 2 cyclone, which left
134,000 dead or missing and up to 2.4 million others destitute.

The major general's rare public defence came after three
days of criticism of the junta's relief effort, including a
rebuke from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said "tens
of thousands" more had died due to Myanmar's stonewalling on
foreign aid.

Western governments and foreign aid groups have criticised
the junta's handling of the crisis as slow and unresponsive, a
view echoed by many bitter cyclone survivors in the hardest-hit
Irrawaddy delta.

But Aye Myint said junta leader Senior General Than Shwe
had held an emergency cabinet meeting and dispatched ministers
to oversee the relief effort a day after the cyclone.

"Through the prompt and immediate supervision of the
supervisory central body headed by the prime minister and
member ministers, relief camps and hospitals were opened,
debris was cleared, emergency power and water supply restored,"
he said.

Myint also said life in 33 townships in Yangon had
stabilised within three days and areas outside the former
capital had returned to normal within one week.

But nearly one month after one of Asia's biggest cyclone
disasters, the United Nations says fewer than half of the 2.4
million people affected by the cyclone have received help from
the government, or international or local aid groups.

A shortage of flat-bottomed boats is hampering delivery of
aid, the European Union said on Friday, with little or no
relief reaching isolated villages in the delta.


On Saturday, Gates accused Myanmar's military, which has
ruled the isolated nation for 46 years, of being "deaf and
dumb" to pleas to allow in more foreign aid and relief workers.

Than Shwe's pledge a week ago to allow in "all" legitimate
foreign aid workers has yielded more visas for U.N. relief
experts, but red tape is still hampering access to the delta.

Gates contrasted the generals' refusal to accept aid from
the U.S. military after Cyclone Nargis struck four weeks ago
with the willingness of Indonesia and Bangladesh to accept
assistance after natural disasters in recent years.

"With Burma, the situation has been very different -- at a
cost of tens of thousands of lives," Gates said.

The United States is expected to decide in a few days
whether to withdraw its aid-laden ships from waters near

Singapore, one of the biggest foreign investors in the
former Burma, said the generals feared giving greater access to
foreign aid agencies would show that the regime was incapable
of handling the disaster.

However, Myint reiterated that his government was open to
all aid provided that it is not politicised.

"In carrying out the relief, resettlement and
rehabilitation tasks, we will warmly welcome any assistance and
aid which are provided with genuine goodwill from any country
or organisation provided there are no strings attached," he

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