(From L) Enrique Manalo, George Yeo, Noppadon Pattam and U Nyan Win (Burma)
Rescue workers upload relief goods from a helicopter in Hlaing Thayar township on the outskirts of Yangon
Myanmar’s junta leader Senior General Than Shwe (uniformed-C) visits cyclone-affected familes on the outskirts of Yangon
.20 May 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Tuesday questioned the relevance of a scheduled fundraising conference for cyclone-battered Myanmar, saying it was more important for military rulers in the Southeast Asian state to provide swift increased access to disaster-hit areas.
“Without an adequate and independent assessment of the situation and current needs, as well as a commitment by the regime to provide the necessary access, a pledging conference is unlikely to produce the results we seek,” US envoy to ASEAN Scot Marciel told a Congressional hearing.
The United Nations and the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, have announced plans to host a funds-pledging conference in Yangon on Sunday.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon left for Yangon Tuesday to hold talks with Myanmar’s junta and attend the conference, with a warning that international humanitarian aid had reached only a quarter of cyclone victims.
Some 133,000 people have died or are missing from Cyclone Nargis, which hit May 3.
Myanmar’s military junta agreed at ASEAN talks Monday in Singapore to allow neighboring countries to coordinate an international relief effort but doubts emerged over how effective any relief effort would be.
The junta has refused to allow in foreign aid workers in anything like the numbers needed, despite warnings that people could die without help.
The United Nations, which estimates that only 500,000 of the 2.4 million affected by the storm are receiving aid, is making a top-level diplomatic effort to press the regime to open up the country.
Marciel said the United States, which had provided more than 16 million dollars of humanitarian aid through the UN and non-governmental groups, was reviewing possible participation at the fundraising conference.
Washington, he said, still believed that the key to saving more lives was to increase access urgently to the disaster areas for international relief teams who could provide the expertise and logistical resources that the military regime lacked.
“We will continue to exhaust all diplomatic channels and opportunities to persuade the regime to grant access to the experts and assets that can expedite the flow of humanitarian assistance to those in need,” he said.
The junta insists it is capable of managing the logistics of the aid distribution operation but “it clearly is not,” Marciel said.
He said critical shortages abound — helicopters and helicopter pilots to ferry supplies to inaccessible areas, doctors to treat the sick and prevent infection and public health experts to provide sanitation facilities.
“The situation is increasingly desperate and the regime’s failure to provide greater access for the international community to the affected area is putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk,” he said.
“The door must be opened far wider — and rapidly — to prevent a second catastrophe,” the responsibility for which would “fall squarely on the shoulders” of junta chief Than Shwe and the other generals, he said.
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