Myanmar to Allow Relief Aid, Workers

Ad Feedback -- Myanmar's military regime is still refusing to let U.S., British, and French warships dock and unload relief supplies, despite agreeing Friday to allow all aid workers into the country.

The junta's government has not confirmed the deal with the U.N. to let relief workers in, and no timeline was given for when international aid workers could enter the devastated countryside.

 "This agreement can produce results. And the implementation will be the key," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, after returning from a meeting with Myanmar's top general Than Shwe, the country's most powerful figure.

"I believe they will keep and honor their commitment," Ban said.

U.S. -- "Waiting to See Action"

A U.S. State Department spokesman welcomed Ban's announcement but said the U.S. is waiting to see action.

A senior U.N. official Shwe approved the help of foreign workers in the hardest-hit region, the Irrawaddy Delta. The regime has barred all but a handful of aid workers from trying to help survivors living in the delta.

Ban said he was told foreign aid workers would be given "unhindered access to affected areas" and that they would be allowed in regardless of nationality.

"He has taken a flexible position on that issue that until now has been an obstacle to organizing. coordinated and full effective international aid, assistance and cooperation," Ban said.

Until now, Myanmar's ruling military junta has refused to allow huge amounts of international aid and experts to reach the areas of the country that were pounded by Cyclone Nargis.

Estimates: 78,000 Dead, 56,000 Missing

At least 78,000 people were killed and another 56,000 are still missing from the storm, according to the country's official reports. Aid groups have estimated the death toll to be far higher.

Some estimated 2.5 million survivors are now trying to overcome problems associated with disease, starvation, and exposure to monsoon rains.

"I urged him (Shwe) that it would be crucially important for him to allow aid workers as swiftly as possible and all these aid relief items also be delivered to the needy people as soon as possible," Ban said.

Shwe said he had also agreed to make Yangon the logistics hub of the aid operation, which Ban called "an important development."

Aid Standing By

In Geneva, international aid agencies said they were ready to step up relief efforts as soon as they learn the "practical details" of the country's new commitment.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned that hundreds of thousands of people in remote areas of the delta have insufficient food. Prices for rice, cooking oil, and other basics had doubled throughout the country.

Only a "very narrow window of opportunity" remains to provide seeds and other material to farmers before the rice planting season which starts in a few weeks, the agency said. Also, half the cattle and buffaloes in 10 townships surveyed had perished during the storms.

Source:  The Associated Press

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