Burma denounces ‘warships’
17 May 2008
United Nations – The Burmese military junta showed signs of paranoia on Friday, denouncing a French naval ship packed with 1,500 tonnes of food aid, with aircraft capable of delivering it, as a “warship” standing off its coast. France said a demand to deliver the aid through Rangoon airport was nonsense.
The French government, which has been pushing the United Nations to forcefully deliver aid to storm victims, said it wants to deliver supplies to inaccessible areas in the Burnese delta.
But French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert make clear to the UN assembly that the ship, which is also carrying helicopters and small boats, was still in international waters, waiting for permission from the Burmese to deliver the supplies.
Ripert said if the military regime continued to bar foreign aid, the refusal would amount to crime against humanity. He conceded to reporters afterwards that the ship was operated by the French navy, “but it is not a ‘warship’, it is a ship on board of which we have 1,500 tons of food, drugs, medicine.
Small boats on board could easily penetrate the delta.
Nearly two weeks after Cyclone Nargis crushed the Irrawaddy delta area and killed at least 30,000 people, the country’s military regime is blocking access by a larger number of international aid workers and insists that material aid be delivered to the government for redistribution.
International health officials have warned of the dire secondary disease consequences of the storm, which has left more than 1 million people without shelter, food and fresh water. The death toll from the storm alone could reach 100,000, experts have said.
France has clashed with China in the UN Security Council on the issue of access, with China opposing any decision to forcefully deliver humanitarian aid to the cyclone victims.
“This ship is equipped with small boats which could allow us to go through the delta to most of regions where no one has access yet. There are also small helicopters which can drop food, and we have doctors and we have platforms for medical intervention,” the ambassador said.
He dismissed as “nonsense” the request by the government of Burma that France deliver the material through airlift in Rangoon.
“We are still trying to convince the authorities of Burma to authorise us to go there,” he said.
“Hundreds of thousands of lives are in jeopardy and we think that the primary responsibility of the government of Burma is to help and open the borders so that the international aid could come into the place,” Ripert said.
France has cited the UN doctrine of responsibility to protect as one which sould allow the UN to force its way into Burma. France was supported only by a handful of Western governments, but others said the UN can intervene only in case of genocide or crime against humanity.
“The responsibility to protect was adopted by 150 heads of States,” Ripert said. “We think it is applicable.”
Ripert said a plane from the French non-governmental organisation Action contre la faim (Action Against Hunger) arrived in Rangoon on Friday and has already delivered aid. (dpa)