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Myanmar criticized for still hindering foreign aid

Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar — Human rights and aid groups complained today that Myanmar’s military government was still hindering the free flow of international help for victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Some foreign aid staff were still waiting for permission to enter the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta while the regime continues to review entry requests for 48 hours, the groups said.

About 2.4 million are homeless and hungry after the May 2-3 cyclone hit Myanmar, also known as Burma.

"The Burmese government is still using red tape to obstruct some relief efforts when it should accept all aid immediately and unconditionally," the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

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The International Red Cross was waiting for permission to send 30 of its foreign staffers into the delta.

The regime has also barred naval vessels from the United States, France and Great Britain from entering Myanmar’s waters, leaving them to wait offshore with their loads of humanitarian supplies. The French have been forced to dock in Thailand and turn over the relief goods to the United Nations for onward shipment into Myanmar.

"By still delaying and hampering aid efforts ... the generals are showing that, even during a disaster, oppression rules," Human Rights Watch said.

While welcoming millions of dollars from the international community for cyclone relief, Myanmar lashed out at donors for not pledging enough.

State-run media decried donors on Thursday for only pledging up to $150 million — a far cry from the $11 billion the junta said it needed to rebuild. One article said the same countries that criticized Myanmar for not opening its door to aid workers were being stingy with relief aid.

The isolationist government agreed to allow foreign aid workers in after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe last weekend.

But delays continue, Human Rights Watch said.

Although a major improvement over the pre-cyclone period of four months needed for approval to enter the delta, the 48-hour waiting period now required is "still wasting time," the group said.

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Myanmar’s government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

The country’s xenophobic leaders are leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies, worrying they could weaken the junta’s powerful grip. The generals also don’t want their people to see aid coming directly from countries like the U.S., which the regime has long treated as a hostile power.

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