Sun, May 18, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Junta lays on tour of cyclone ravaged area

AFP , YANGON, MYANMAR

Survivors of Cyclone Nargis wait to receive donations at a monastery on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Foreign diplomats and aid workers in Myanmar said yesterday they had not seen enough on a government tour in the cyclone-hit south to fully assess the damage caused by a cyclone two weeks ago.

A day after the regime said the official toll from the disaster had doubled to around 78,000 dead and 56,000 missing, they took diplomats on three flights into the zone, which has been mostly closed off to foreigners.

“What they showed us looked very good, but they are not showing us the whole picture,” said Chris Kaye, Myanmar director for the UN’s World Food Program, one of many agencies helping take part in the emergency relief effort.

“I went to the three locations and there were [at] maximum 250 people at each one,” he said. “They showed that they can put together the package — there were tents, water, basic supplies.”

An Asian diplomat who went on the tour said they had been shown around by helicopter.

“The ambassadors themselves looked around the affected Irrawaddy delta area in the morning hours,” he said on condition of anonymity. “It was not good enough to get a clear picture of the damage in the area.”

The international community has been turning up the pressure on the country’s military rulers, who have been criticized for holding up visas for foreign disaster experts and insisting on managing the relief effort alone.

With up to 2.5 million people facing dire shortages of food, water, shelter and medical care, according to international agencies, there have been signs that the junta is easing some constraints on the operation.

Two shipments of US aid were for the first time given directly to relief groups rather than handled by the regime, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, adding that nine more flights were set for this weekend.

Thirty Thai medics flew into the country early yesterday, part of a group of more than 100 Asian medical workers who the junta is allowing to treat victims of the storm, a Thai health official said.

But Louis Michel, the EU’s humanitarian aid commissioner, said on Friday after two days of talks that the junta had refused to open an airport in the delta to aid flights, currently going to the main city Yangon.

The military, which has ruled since 1962, is deeply suspicious of the outside world and has appeared to fear the influx of anything that could weaken its control.

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