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Pattaya Daily News

14 May 2008 :: 16:05:12 pm 29621

U.S. Aircrews, Leery, Get Warm Welcome In Yangon

U-TAPAO AIR BASE, Thailand: Flying into Yangon, Corporal Bryan Hampson of the Marines looked out the windows of his C-130 cargo plane at an expanse of marshland covered with a thick, brown blanket of water.
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As the plane broke through the clouds, Hampson did not know what to expect. His flight Tuesday was only the second one that the ruling military junta of Myanmar – hostile and suspicious of outside interference – had allowed the U.S. military to fly into the cyclone-devastated country.

What awaited was virtually a hero’s welcome.

“They kept telling us thank-you and shaking our hands,” he said of the 40 Burmese who unloaded by hand the roughly 9,000 kilograms, or 19,800 pounds, of emergency supplies on board. “They were really friendly toward us. They were excited to see us.”

After appeals from Washington, the junta allowed the second and third U.S. military flights to land Tuesday and appeared to be willing to accept more, Lieutenant Douglas Powell of the Marines said.

Powell said the first flight Tuesday had carried blankets, water and mosquito nets. The second carried a load of 11,225 kilograms in supplies. The two flights came after Myanmar allowed an Air Force C-130 cargo plane to land in Yangon, the main city, on Monday.

“They were very polite, very professional,” Captain Mark Hamilton, the pilot of the first flight Tuesday, said of the officials who met the plane. He said a Myanmar Air Force officer came aboard the plane and took snapshots. “But the military mostly stood off to the side,” he said.

Hamilton said the Yangon airport was in good condition. “They could fit quite a few large planes in there,” he said. “The only issue is the offload.”

Powell said a Boeing 747 aircraft had arrived at U-Tapao Air Base on Monday night to replenish the supplies available for shipment to Myanmar. Although the flights are military, the aid aboard them is being provided by the U.S. civilian relief authorities.

The United States has pushed the junta in Myanmar to let U.S. troops play a role in relief operations in the aftermath of the cyclone, which has killed tens of thousands.

The U.S. military, which has already brought forces to the region for annual maneuvers, has 11,000 troops, at least four ships and potentially dozens of cargo planes nearby that are ready to start assistance operations.

Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, flew to Myanmar on the initial aid flight Monday to try to persuade the junta to relent.

Keating said the U.S. military could provide 90,720 kilograms of supplies a day, which would be a massive boost to the lagging relief efforts. The military could also ferry aid workers to the hardest-hit regions, which remain difficult to reach.

But Myanmar state television said the navy commander in chief, Rear Admiral Soe Thein, had told Keating that basic needs of the storm victims are being fulfilled and that “skillful humanitarian workers are not necessary.”

Reporter : PDN staff   Category : World News

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