U.N. gets OK to aid Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar - The United Nations has received permission from Myanmar's government to operate nine helicopters to bring relief supplies to victims of the country's recent Cyclone Nargis, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday.

"We have received government permission to operate nine WFP [World Food Program] helicopters, which will allow us to reach areas that have so far been largely inaccessible," Ban told reporters in New York before departing on a mission to Myanmar.

His announcement was not immediately confirmed by Myanmar officials.

The U.S. military has several helicopters on standby on a warship off the Myanmar coast and in neighboring Thailand.

The U.S. is already flying supplies in from Thailand on C-130 cargo aircraft, at a rate of about five flights a day. But the planes go to Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, from which it is a difficult journey to the Irrawaddy delta.

China victims need shelter

AN XIAN, China - China is grappling with the next massive task in the aftermath of its earthquake - how to shelter the 5 million people left homeless.

Many were living yesterday in tent cities like one at the base of Qianfo mountain in the disaster zone, offering some stability - along with food and medical care - to those whose lives were upended.

"After the quake, we couldn't sleep for five days. We were really, really afraid," said Chen Shigui, a weathered 55-year-old farmer who climbed for two days with his wife and injured father to reach the camp from their mountain village. "I felt relieved when we got here. It's much safer compared to my home."

The government issued an urgent appeal yesterday for tents and brought in the first foreign teams of doctors and field hospitals, some of whom were swapping out with overseas search and rescue specialists.

Prez regrets sniper incident

BAGHDAD - President Bush has apologized to Iraq's prime minister for an American sniper's shooting of a Quran, and the Iraqi government called on U.S. military commanders to educate their soldiers to respect local religious beliefs.

Bush's spokeswoman said yesterday that the president apologized during a videoconference Monday with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who told the president that the shooting of Islam's holy book had disappointed and angered both the Iraqi people and their leaders.

"He apologized for that in the sense that he said that we take it very seriously," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "We are concerned about the reaction. We wanted them to know that the president knew that this was wrong."

Pols do something for GIs

WASHINGTON - Setting aside differences over the war in Iraq, the House voted unanimously yesterday to provide financial and tax relief to military personnel. The action came as the Senate debated a major expansion in college-education benefits for veterans.

In the run-up to Memorial Day, the House was taking up more than a dozen bills either to help or honor veterans and those on active duty, highlighted by the $2 billion tax package.

The bill, passed 403-0, allows active-duty reservists to make penalty-free withdrawals from retirement plans, and makes permanent a law including combat pay as earned income for purposes of the Earned Income Tax Credit.

It provides a tax credit of up to $4,000 for small businesses that continue to pay their National Guard and Reserve employees while they are on active duty and makes thousands of veterans eligible for low-interest homeowner loans.

Harsh interrogation won out

WASHINGTON - FBI agents complained repeatedly, beginning in 2002, about the harsh interrogation tactics that military and CIA interrogators were using in questioning terrorism suspects, like making them do dog tricks and parade in the nude in front of female soldiers, but their complaints appear to have had little effect, according to an exhaustive report released yesterday by the Justice Department's inspector general.

The report describes major and repeated clashes between FBI agents and their counterparts over the rough methods being used on detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq - some of which, according to the inspector general, may have violated the Defense Department's own policies at the time.

It also provides new insight into the intense debates at senior levels of the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council over what should and should not be allowed - a debate in which the Defense Department prevailed. *

-Daily News wire services