Myanmar 3rdLd-Writethru 05-19
UN official: UN leaders allowed in Myanmar delta
Eds: PMs. UPDATES with invitations being sent to foreign governments to send representatives, U.N. comment on access to delta.
AP Photo XKC117, XKC114, XKC113
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s military regime allowed the U.N. humanitarian chief into the devastated Irrawaddy delta for a brief tour on Monday, a U.N. official said, as the government’s dealings with the international community appeared to thaw.
But the United Nations said its foreign staff were still barred from the delta and described conditions there as "terrible," with hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims suffering from hunger, disease and lack of shelter.
John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, flew by helicopter to the delta before returning to Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, to meet with international aid agencies, said a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media.
Others, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will also be allowed into the disaster zone this week, officials said, in an apparent effort to deflect criticism that the government is not managing the relief operations properly.
An Asian diplomat said Myanmar has invited at least three representatives of several countries to tour the delta on Friday. Another diplomat said Myanmar seems to be opening the door wider. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the news has not been made public.
The diplomats did not say which countries received invitations.
Ban is to travel to the delta after his scheduled arrival in the country Wednesday, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.
Earlier, junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe had refused to take telephone calls from Ban and had not responded to two letters from him, Montas said. Holmes, who arrived in Yangon on Sunday, was to deliver a third letter about how the U.N. can assist the government’s immediate and long-term relief effort.
Amanda Pitt, a U.N. spokeswoman in Bangkok, said that the world body was seeing "some progress in terms of pipelines starting to come through" but that the aid operation was still unsatisfactory.
"Clearly we’re still not satisfied which is why we keep saying we need to upscale the response. We’re not satisfied with it, nobody is. We can see the situation is terrible," she said.
In Singapore, Southeast Asian nations — under fire for being too lenient with Myanmar’s junta — held an emergency meeting Monday in the hopes of pressing the isolated country to accept more international help.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations plans to consider a proposal that it play a role in arranging the entry of aid to the country, said Philippine Assistant Foreign Secretary Marilyn Alarilla. But suggestions that aid be taken in by force were unlikely to gain support.
Myanmar has long been a thorn in the side of ASEAN, which is hamstrung by its bedrock principle of not interfering in each other’s affairs, and a policy of making decisions by consensus.
European Union nations have warned the junta could be committing a crime against humanity by blocking aid intended for up to 2.5 million survivors faced with hunger, loss of their homes and potential outbreaks of deadly diseases.
But signs have appeared that the generals might be listening to the chorus of criticism.
A team of 50 Chinese medics arrived in Yangon on Sunday night, following in the footsteps of medical personnel from India and Thailand, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported. On Monday some 30 Thai doctors and nurses began working in the delta — exceptions to the regime’s ban on foreign aid workers in the region.
The U.S.-based disaster relief agency AmeriCares said the regime had cleared its initial 15-ton shipment of medicine and medical equipment into Myanmar.
A senior British official hinted Sunday that a breakthrough may also be near that would allow foreign military ships to join the relief effort, but warnings grew of a potential second wave of deaths — this time among children who lack fresh water and proper shelter.
Myanmar’s state-run media lashed out at critics of the regime’s response to the disaster, detailing the junta’s efforts. State television showed Than Shwe inspecting supplies and comforting homeless victims in relatively clean and neat rows of blue tents.
The media said Than Shwe traveled from the capital, Naypyitaw, to relief camps in the Hlaing Thar Yar and Dagon suburbs of Yangon.
Some survivors clasped their hands and bowed as he and a column of military leaders walked past. At least 78,000 people were killed in the May 2-3 storm and another 56,000 were missing.
The official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the government’s National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee will work with foreign aid agencies "to ensure that all relief funds and supplies reach the storm victims."
Myanmar will also work with its fellow member countries in ASEAN to help cyclone-stricken areas in a rehabilitation drive that will be planned over the next several days, the newspaper said, quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu.
The situation remained grim in the Irrawaddy delta south of Yangon.
In the delta city of Laputta, hundreds of children covered their heads from the rain with empty aluminum plates as they lined up in front of a private donation center. They were given rice, a spoonful of curry and a potato.
"Children only. Please. Children only," shouted a man who pushed back a crowd of adults. He explained they were feeding children and the elderly first because food supplies were limited and most adults could still fend for themselves.
British Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he believes the rulers of Myanmar might soon relent and let Western military ships join in the relief effort, especially if Asian go-betweens are involved.
Aid agencies have said about 2.5 million survivors are in desperate need of help — food, shelter from intermittent monsoon rains, medicine, clean drinking water and sanitation.
Appeals have gone out to donors, but with limited responses.
The United Nations said only $41 million of its $201 million "flash appeal" has been contributed so far.
Associated Press writer Eileen Ng contributed to this report from Singapore.