Green Light for Relief UN Chief Says Burma Will Let in 'All Aid Workers'

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced that Burma's military leadership has agreed to let foriegn aid workers into the country to help Cyclone Nargis survivors. The breakthrough came after a two-hour meeting in the remote new capital of Naypyitaw.


A small boy displaced by Cyclone Nargis.
DPA

A small boy displaced by Cyclone Nargis.

Three weeks have passed since Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, leaving at trial of destruction and over 130,000 people dead or missing in its wake. Now, finally, the reclusive generals who rule the Southeast Asian state have agreed to let in "all aid workers" to help the survivors.

The breakthrough came after the military junta's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, met with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday morning. Afterwards Ban told reporters that the military leadership had agree to allow "all aid workers" to enter Burma. One of his officials then said that the relief workers would be allowed to enter the hardest-hit region, the Irrawaddy delta. "The general saw no reason why that should not happen, as long as they are genuine humanitarian workers and it was clear as to what they were going to be doing," he said.

The two-hour meeting in the new Burmese capital Naypyitaw seems to have persuaded the junta to ease tight restrictions that were imposed after the cyclone hit on May 2-3. Although the number of visas issued to foreign aid workers has increased, they have so far been barred from entering the delta that bore the brunt of the disaster.

Soon after the meeting, the work on the ground began. France's Doctors Without Borders said Friday that it now had moved foreign staffers into the Irrawaddy delta. A French cargo plane loaded with 40 tons of supplies was due to land Friday in Rangoon and Canada announced it would be sending a C-17 cargo lifter to deliver UN World Food Program helicopters.

The UN says that the 2.5 million displaced Burmese face a number of serious risks including hunger and disease as well as monsoon rains, yet only around a quarter of those affected have so far been reached by aid workers. The International Red Cross says that rivers and ponds in the Irrawaddy delta town of Bogalay are still full of corpses.

Ban arrived in Burma on Thursday and was brought on a carefully orchestrated tour of the country, but not to those areas that had seen the most destruction.

He had initially found it difficult to establish direct contact with the junta. The 76-year-old Than Shwe had at first refused to answer the UN secretary-general's calls from New York or answer two letters he had sent. On Friday, however, Ban said that they had a "very good meeting," adding that the ruling general had taken "quite a flexible position on this matter." Ban is the most senior world figure to have visited Naypyitaw, which abruptly became the new government seat in late 2005.

smd/ap/reuters/afp

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