Sat, May 17, 2008 - Page 1 News List

EU aid chief says junta won’t budge on foreigners

AFP , YANGON, MYANMAR

The EU aid chief said yesterday that Myanmar’s junta still would not budge on accepting foreign relief workers, two weeks after the cyclone tragedy that has left 77,738 dead and 55,917 missing.

Heavy rains again pounded the devastated southern Irrawaddy Delta region, compounding the misery for many of the estimated 2.5 million people in need of immediate food, water, shelter or medical care.

The junta’s refusal to allow in expert teams to help oversee the massive relief effort since the May 2 to May 3 storm has angered the international community, which has nevertheless been sending in hundreds of tonnes of supplies.

Louis Michel, the EU’s humanitarian aid commissioner, was due to leave the secretive nation later in the day after failing to get permission to visit the delta, which has been all but sealed off to journalists and outsiders.

He said the regime, which has long been suspicious of the outside world and any influence which could weaken its control on power, would not explain why they refused to issue visas for disaster emergency experts.

“They didn’t answer the question, and they did not give any reason,” Michel said.

Western diplomats who declined to be named said the regime was taking them to the delta today, but have no further details about where they would be going.

Michel said he had been taken to “a rather perfect, organized camp” outside the main city of Yangon, far from the flooded and devastated delta region where aid groups say many survivors have still not received help.

Amid a report from the WHO that there are cases of cholera in the delta, a reporter who managed to reach the region spoke to a man who said his wife died in the storm’s aftermath.

Ohn Kyi, 57, said his wife perished after spending two nights — cold, wet and hungry — clinging to an embankment in the rain.

“She had no warm clothes to change into,” he said. “She survived the storm, but she could not recover from the cold.”

As state media raised the official death toll to 43,318, with nearly 28,000 still missing, Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors geared up for talks in Singapore on Monday aimed at convening a high-level donors meeting.

A UN source said a donor meeting would likely take place in Southeast Asia, probably Bangkok, with next Saturday suggested as a possible date.

The junta has said that the country will welcome aid shipments but has steadfastly refused to bow to international pressure to let in most outside workers, saying it can manage the disaster on its own.

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