Sun, May 25, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Tough conditions as donors’ meeting opens in Yangon

AP AND AFP , BANGKOK AND YANGON, MYANMAR

Dozens of governments meeting today about funding Myanmar relief efforts are expected to open their wallets, but with tough conditions — especially that the ruling junta allow better access to disaster zones and fight corruption.

Humanitarian agencies said they were heartened by the junta’s announcement on Friday that “all aid workers” would be let into the cyclone-ravaged country and that civilian ships and small boats would be allowed to deliver aid.

But they said the military government must spell out exactly what the wording meant and then implement those promises on the ground.

“We have to see that this is transmitted into reality, into practice,” ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said. “If the agreement given to the secretary-general of the United Nations cannot be implemented in spirit, then we will have problems delivering assistance.”

More than 45 countries and regional organizations have signed up to attend a donors’ conference in Myanmar to mobilize funds for immediate humanitarian assistance for the survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which killed about 78,000 and left another 56,000 missing.

The conference in Yangon was sponsored by the UN and the 10-country ASEAN, which is taking the lead in organizing the delivery of aid to an estimated 2.5 million people who remain in severe need following the devastating storm on May 2 and May 3.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to return to Yangon today to co-chair the conference.

The UN launched an emergency appeal for US$187 million on May 9 for cyclone relief and then raised the amount to US$201 million. That figure will likely increase further once disaster relief experts are able to survey the hard-hit Irrawaddy delta.

So far, donors have only provided 25 percent — US$50 million — of the funding needed for the appeal.

Meanwhile, polls opened for hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims, many hungry, homeless and still waiting for aid, in a much-criticized constitutional referendum yesterday.

The outcome of the balloting has already been decided, after the junta declared an overwhelming victory in the first round of voting on May 10, held in parts of the country spared by the cyclone.

Most people in Yangon were already resigned to the outcome of the poll.

“They won already,” a 35-year-old taxi driver said. “My vote is nothing to them.”

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