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UN chief says junta to let aid workers into Myanmar

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The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, left, meeting with the leader of Myanmar’s military junta, Senior General Than Shwe, in in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on Friday. (Pool photo by Stan Honda)

UN chief says junta to let aid workers into Myanmar

Published: May 23, 2008

BANGKOK: In what he said appeared to be a breakthrough after three weeks of obstructionism, the United Nations general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, said Friday that the leader of Myanmar’s military junta had promised to allow into the country “all aid workers” of any nationality.

But Ban gave no indication when the Myanmar government would allow aid workers to enter the country and whether they would be allowed to travel to the badly-hit Irrawaddy Delta.

The statement was met with surprise and wariness by relief officials, including some affiliated with the United Nations, who have been struggling since the cyclone against the intransigence of the Myanmar authorities to let in aid workers.

“I had a very good meeting with the Senior General, particularly on these aid workers,” said Ban, according to international news service reporters who were invited to travel with him to Myanmar.

Describing an uncharacteristic attitude by the usually tough and combative leader, Senior General Than Shwe, Ban added: “He has taken quite a flexible position on this matter.”

On Sunday, Ban was to join an international donors conference in Myanmar at which the United Nations and the regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, are to discuss the delivery and allocation of humanitarian assistance.

The junta has asked for $11.7 billion in international assistance, said the Asean secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan.

Relief officials said a key issue would be whether any more relief workers allowed in from outside would be allowed free access to hard-hit areas where the United Nations says only a quarter of some 2.4 million victims of the cyclone have been reached with aid.

In recent days, Myanmar has allowed a modest flow of supplies and relief workers into the country, but the military government continues to bar foreigners from entering the delta region to assess damage and coordinate the delivery of aid.

“Translating what you hear in a place like that into reality — we will have to wait and see what will happen,” said Lionel Rosenblatt, president emeritus of the humanitarian agency Refugees International.

In the diplomatic campaign to provide cyclone relief, one major issue has been all-but ignored: the abuses of human rights and political freedoms that have been almost the sole agenda of the United Nations and Western nations in Myanmar for nearly two decades.

In talking with reporters, Ban did not mention Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader, whose freedom from house arrest has been the chief demand of the international community and whose detention reaches what appears to be a statutory five-year limit at midnight on Saturday.

If her detention is renewed, human rights workers say, the junta will be perpetuating an abuse and violating its own laws in the presence of the United Nations secretary general and foreign diplomats.

“With the cyclone, the whole political side of the crisis has just dropped off the map,” said Benjamin Zawacki, a researcher with the human rights group Amnesty International.

Ban’s meeting with Shwe came on the second day of a visit during which he took a helicopter tour of affected areas and met with government officials and relief workers.

At the donors’ conference on Sunday, Ban was scheduled to meet with representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, which reached an agreement this week to coordinate humanitarian  assistance.

Although the United Nations says millions of people are still in urgent need of food, water, shelter and medical supplies, the junta insists that “the emergency phase of the operation is over” and that donors should focus on reconstruction, which would include instead large amounts of machinery and materials.

“This discrepancy is a confidence gap that has to be verified, that has to be reconciled,” said the Asean secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan. “Whether the Sunday pledging conference will be successful or not depends on the ability to reconcile the difference.” He added that without international access to the worst-hit areas, “the shared concern is we don’t know the extent of the damage. We don’t know the number of the missing or the number of the displaced.”

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/23/asia/myanmar.php

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

May 23, 2008 at 3:17 pm

One Response

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  1. Lets hope the much too late relief effort will actually be allowed and the international aid workers let into the country, for your support please take a look here —> Burma relief slideshow

    Denis

    May 24, 2008 at 3:25 am


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