Pattaya Daily News

09 May 2008 :: 17:05:09 pm 29780

Thai Pm To Intercede For The West As Burmese Generals Relent

Although the Burmese Foreign Ministry have said Burma wants supplies, but not foreign aid workers, saying Burma was "making strenuous efforts" to get aid to affected areas by itself and was not ready for foreign teams, the generals relented and allowed US aircraft involved in the annual US-Thai military-co-operation exercise, Cobra Gold, to land with urgently needed emergency supplies, according to Thai Supreme Commander Boonsrang Niumpradit .?
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He told Reuters: “We have helped the Americans to talk to the Myanmar government to allow U.S. planes participating in Cobra Gold to fly humanitarian aid to Myanmar.They just agreed.” The apparent decision follows rising pressure from the West for the Burmese authorities to accept aid from them.

However, what aid has reached the stricken country is woefully inadequate and on Thursday, May 8, 2008, UN officials expressed mounting frustration over Burma’s failure to accept international help. The BBC reports on Thursday, the UN’s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, told reporters that Burma’s response to the disaster was “nothing like as much as is needed”. As many as 1.5 million people were severely affected, he said, and there was a “real danger that an even worse tragedy may unfold if we cannot get the aid that’s desperately needed in quickly”. The US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzhad, said he was “outraged” by Burma’s slow response to offers of help.

Thailand’s Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej announced today, Friday, that he would fly to cyclone-stricken Burma this weekend in response to urgings from British and American envoys to intercede and ask the ruling generals to open the door to Western aid. This was following Washington expressed outrage with the Myanmar junta over delays in allowing in aid for a country.

Meanwhile, there have been reports of looting from local shops in Kungyangon, a devastated town. “More than £100 was stolen from my house,” said a young woman. “Most of the shops have been robbed by hungry people.” However, the crime wave apparently ended when the army finally turned up in Kungyangon on Tuesday, offering chlorinated water and a kilogram of rice per family.

The British Foreign Office have also expressed concern over the plight of 17 Britons thought to have been in Burma when Cyclone Nagris struck, last Saturday, as the Foreign Office said they had failed to make contact.

Here are the main details from Reuters:

The British nationals, who were either visiting or living in the country as residents, have failed to make contact with friends or family in the UK in the six days since the cyclone devastated the south-east Asian country. The Foreign Office emphasised that poor communications in the aftermath of the disaster could be the reason, saying that it had received no reports of British casualties.

Around 200 Britons live in Burma, while an estimated 7,500 visit as tourists each year. The Foreign Office warned those living in the country of the impending cyclone.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said today: “At the moment we are aware of 17 British nationals that friends and family have not been able to make contact with.”

She added: “But we have had no reports of British casualties and we have no reports that they are in danger.”

The authorities in Burma – called Myanmar by its military rulers – have allowed US military planes carrying aid to land in the cyclone-hit country, a Thai general claimed this morning, but United Nations aircraft carrying tons of emergency aid have so far been banned from landing in the country, according a UN spokesman.

So far Burma’s rulers have only been willing to accept aid from neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia.

International relief supplies began to trickle into the country on Wednesday, but the regime has not yet begun issuing visas to emergency relief specialists who aid agencies say are essential in running a massive logistical operation in a wrecked landscape.

The US warned last night that more than 100,000 people could have died as a result of the storm, a significant increase on Burma’s 60,000 estimate.

“The information that we’re receiving indicates that there may well be over 100,000 deaths in the delta area,” said Shari Villarosa, the US charge d’affaires at its embassy in the country’s capital Rangoon.

And Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said of aid on Wednesday night: “It should be a simple matter. It’s not a matter of politics. It’s a matter of a humanitarian crisis.”

Despite the apparent breakthrough thousands of tons of supplies still wait in depots abroad, unable to enter the country and help residents of the worst-hit towns and villagers.

The UN was still reporting on Thursday morning that World Food Programme planes carrying nearly 45 tons of high-energy biscuits were still stuck in Dhaka, in Bangladesh, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, because they had not been given permission to land. Trucks carrying aid are also stuck in neighbouring countries.

The UN is hoping a four-man assessment team will be allowed to start work in Burma later today.

The regime has said that Cyclone Nargis claimed at least 22,000 lives and left another 40,000 missing, presumed dead. Yet it has yet to prove fully co-operative with the international community and aid agencies desperate to help.

Meanwhile, a group of British aid agencies and charities yesterday launched an “urgent” appeal for help and a TV advert asking for donations will be broadcast today.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) said the scale of the disaster meant the need for aid was “immediate and vast”.

Saturday’s cyclone flattened many coastal communities in the Irawaddy delta, a combination of hurrican-force winds and a 12 foot tidal surge overwhelming settlements.

At Kungyangon, a devastated town where 2,000 bodies have been buried, survivors provided horrifying accounts of the disaster and its wake.

A community leader warned of the growing threat to the health of those who five days ago escaped Cyclone Nargis.

“If we don’t get help we will die here,” he told The Daily Telegraph, asking not to reveal his name for fear of offending the military regime.

“Already diarrhoea is beginning. Most of the people have diarrhoea. We need good food and shelter to survive.”

“They have been buried in whatever scraps of dry ground can be found, often two or three bodies to a single grave. The bodies of hundreds of people, missing presumed dead, have not been found.”

All the food in one neighbourhood was destroyed as the area, near to the worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta, was engulfed with water. On 19 streets not one house survived unscathed. Most are shattered wrecks. A few remain more or less intact but just as many have disappeared entirely.

The bodies of dead people have been removed here, but the bloated corpses of buffalo are still trapped in the debris nearby, threatening to poison the water supply.

In another town, Labutta, which has virtually no food or fresh water, the flood waters have begun to recede, revealing rotting, bloated bodies, both human and animal, which have left a stench hanging over the town.

A distraught elderly woman in Kungyangon, lost 18 relatives who lived in a nearby coastal village.

Only three children at boarding school survived. “The whole village was destroyed,” she wailed as she pawed at their photographs and wept inconsolably.

Her house quickly filled up with neighbours, each desperate to tell their own appalling story, many of them reminiscent of the horrifying scenes witnessed on coastlines across the Indian Ocean in the 2004 tsunami.

A young man lost five siblings when their boat was swept away. A father had his infant son torn from arms as he and his wife fled their collapsing home.

Two days later he found the body 300 yards away. Now he is fixed on survival.

“When I have rice I fill my stomach,” he said. “When I have noting to eat I go to the mango trees and eat the fruit scattered on the ground.”

Above the clamour of people trying to give their accounts, the distraught old woman asserted herself. “I will tell the story,” she said and everyone fell briefly silent.

“At first when it was very windy people started to run,” she said. “They were clinging to trees. Around four in the morning people started to drown.”

The settlement was trapped between a raging river and a torrent of water coming from the seaward side. Inside the houses it reached six feet deep. It was salt water, and destroyed all the rice in five rice mills here.”

Desperation has driven some to crime. The home of a relatively wealthy man in Kungyangon was surrounded by men with swords intent on robbery until neighbours intervened to save him.

“More than £100 was stolen from my house,” said a young woman. “Most of the shops have been robbed by hungry people.”

The crime wave ended when the army finally arrived in Kungyangon on Tuesday, offering chlorinated water and a kilogram of rice per family. On Wednesday morning residents were also given fish.

It is all many of them have to eat, but they are unimpressed. “They talk with a big mouth about the water they are giving but it is not enough,” said one man. “The rice is not enough.”

The army presence in the town increased considerably on Wednesday, with more than a dozen dark green trucks parked on the main road.

The soldiers were most visible standing along the roadside , a few of them hacking away at the fallen trees.

But local people cleared the road days ago. It was also local people who cleared away the bodies, and who are accommodating their homeless neighbours as best they can. “People are helping each other,” one man said.

Sir John Holmes, the UN’s Humanitarian Affairs chief, said the organisation had applied for 100 visas but had only received a handful from the Burmese regime.

He said the international relief effort was “slower than ideal” but cooperation from the junta was “going in the right direction.”

International agencies hope to be able to mount a “flash appeal” detailing the precise needs of those affected on Friday.

How you can donate: A number of charities have launched appeals to help the Burmese in the wake of this weekend’s cyclone. You can donate online to the British Red Cross, www.redcross.org.uk (£5 will provide water purification tablets for 60 people), to Oxfam’s emergency fund, www.oxfam.co.uk, to Christian Aid, www.christianaid.org.uk, to Unicef, www.unicef.org.uk, and Save the Children, www.savethechildren.org.uk

By Graeme Jenkins, Stephen Adams and Tom Chivers
Thai PM to hold talks on aid with junta on Sunday
* U.N. says 1.5 million people “severely affected”
* U.S. outraged by Myanmar government’s slow response
* U.S. Navy sends ships with aid toward Myanmar
By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON, May 9 (Reuters) – Thailand’s prime minister announced on Friday that he would fly to cyclone-stricken Myanmar this weekend after British and American envoys urged him to ask the ruling generals to open the door to Western aid.

Samak Sundaravej’s move came after Washington expressed outrage with the Myanmar junta over delays in allowing in aid for a country where, according to a United Nations estimate, 1.5 million people have been “severely affected” by the cyclone.

Despairing survivors awaited emergency relief on Friday, almost a week after Cyclone Nargis roared across the farms and villages of the low-lying Irrawaddy delta region, killing perhaps as many as 100,000 people.

“I have already contacted them (Myanmar’s militatry rulers). I will see them on Sunday,” Samak told reporters after meeting British Ambassador Quinton Quayle in Bangkok.

The U.N. food agency and Red Cross/Red Crescent said on Thursday they had finally started flying in emergency relief supplies after foot-dragging by Myanmar’s leaders.

The United States, however, was waiting for approval to start military flights.

“We’re outraged by the slowness of the response of the government of Burma to welcome and accept assistance,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters. “It’s clear that the government’s ability to deal with the situation, which is catastrophic, is limited.”

The U.S. Navy said four ships, including the destroyer USS Mustin and the three-vessel Essex Expeditionary Strike Force, were heading for Myanmar from the Gulf of Thailand after the Essex deployed helicopters to Thailand for aid operations.

Witnesses have seen little evidence of a relief effort in the delta that was swamped in Saturday’s cyclone — the worst since 1991, when 143,000 people were killed in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Towns and hamlets in the Irrawaddy Delta were helping themselves in the absence of any outside aid. “There are more than 1,000 people down there on the outskirts of Laputta,” said one resident. “It’s a refugee camp. Water is a big problem. So many people from here have made donations. They have given rice, vegetables and noodles.”

Asked if survivors were angry at the regime, he said: “They need food and family. They don’t need revolution.”

INFLUX OF FOREIGNERS

Some critics accuse the junta of stalling because they do not want an influx of foreigners into the countryside during Saturday’s referendum on the army-drafted constitution that looks set to cement the military’s grip on power. The plebiscite has been postponed for two weeks in areas worst-hit by the storm.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was seeking direct talks with the junta’s senior general, Than Shwe, to persuade him to remove obstacles. A U.N. spokeswoman said Ban believed it might be “prudent” for the government to postpone the referendum.

U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes questioned the value of voicing outrage with the junta over the aid delays.

“It’s not clear to me at this stage anyway that bludgeoning them over the head is going to make any difference or make it any better. We have to work with them,” he told U.S. National Public Radio.

Washington is hoping to get approval to send in a plane with aid that is ready to fly. Approval for such a flight would be significant, given the huge distrust and acrimony between the former Burma’s generals and Washington, which has imposed tough sanctions to try to end 46 years of military rule.

‘RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT’

The storm pulverized the Irrawaddy delta with 120 miles (190 km) per hour winds followed by a 12-foot (3.7-metre) wave that levelled villages and caused most of the casualties and damage.

While Holmes said the United Nations estimated at least 1.5 million people were “severely affected”, Britain’s U.N. ambassador, John Sawers, said it may be in the millions.

Myanmar state television did not give an update on Thursday night of the official death toll, which stood at 22,980 with 42,119 missing as of Tuesday. Diplomats and disaster experts said the real figure is likely to be much higher.

Shari Villarosa, charge d’affaires of the U.S. embassy in Myanmar, said on Wednesday the death toll may exceed 100,000.

U.N. officials who had earlier complained the generals were putting up obstacles to an emergency airlift, said half a dozen cargo planes had been allowed to land at Yangon airport.

France has suggested invoking a U.N. “responsibility to protect” to deliver aid to Myanmar without government approval. But its bid to make the Security Council take a stand has been rebuffed by China, Vietnam, South Africa and Russia. Indonesia and China spoke against politicising the issue.

Sawers, the British envoy, suggested that Britain also had doubts about invoking the “responsibility to protect” idea.

“That (concept) relates to acts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and so forth, rather than responses to natural disasters,” Sawers told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Claudia Parsons at the United Nations; Kerstin Gehmlich in Berlin, Matthew Bigg in Atlanta; Nopporn Wong-Anan, Grant McCool and Darren Schuettler in Bangkok; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by John Chalmers)

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : World News

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