Mon, May 26, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Saving lives top priority, UN chief says in Myanmar

AFP AND AP , YANGON, MYANMAR, AND BANGKOK

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that the international focus was now on saving lives in Myanmar, where 2 million desperate cyclone survivors need emergency aid immediately.

More than three weeks since the disaster left 133,000 people dead or missing, he said he thought the country understood the urgency and was now ready to welcome foreign aid workers it has blocked since the storm hit.

“I hope and believe that any hesitation the government of Myanmar may have had ... could soon be a thing of the past,” Ban told delegates at an international donors conference in Yangon to pledge money for the country.

“We have a chance for a new beginning today,” he said. “I ask all of us to keep our eye firmly on the immediate objective — saving lives.”

Ban, the first UN chief in 44 years to visit Myanmar, said he had convinced junta leader Than Shwe to accept foreign disaster experts, who have so far been barred from the hardest-hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta.

In Myanmar’s first official reaction to that meeting, Prime Minister Thein Sein told the conference that his government “will consider” allowing foreign aid workers to help with reconstruction efforts.

“All this will go far to meet the expectations of the international community, which sincerely wants to help the government of Myanmar overcome this national calamity,” Ban said.

The UN also announced yesterday the appointment of diplomat Bishow Parajuli as its country head for Myanmar, replacing Charles Petrie who was abruptly expelled by the junta last year.

The newly appointed representative of the UN Development Program will coordinate the work of all the UN agencies in Myanmar, spokesman Aye Win said.

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