Skip to content
Nation & World
Link copied to clipboard

Myanmar to let its neighbors distribute aid

Under pressure, leaders seemed to relent on allowing foreigners in. They also approved a visit by the U.N.

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's junta, facing global outrage for spurning international assistance, appeared to relent yesterday, saying it would allow its Asian neighbors to oversee the distribution of foreign relief to cyclone survivors.

It also approved a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later in the week and prepared to host a Sunday meeting of aid donors, while claiming that losses from the May 2-3 disaster exceeded $10 billion.

A three-day official period of mourning was to begin today for the dead, which numbered more than 78,000, according to official figures. An additional 56,000 are missing.

Conditions, especially in the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta, remain precarious for survivors, who face disease, malnutrition and exposure.

Heavy rain fell again yesterday, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, noting that such weather could have the benefit of providing clean water for those able to catch the downpour with plastic sheeting.

"However, the rain for many others simply adds to the misery as they look forward to their 18th night in often wretched conditions," the agency said.

The organization remained concerned about the distribution of relief supplies, saying, "Reports indicate that in most of the bigger affected townships, basic relief and food is available but much less so in the more remote areas."

It added that there seemed to be problems even at some of the temporary relief camps set up by the government: "While significant relief is getting through, there are indications of mounting frustration among many displaced communities."

Myanmar, responding to entreaties from its Southeast Asia neighbors, promised yesterday that it would let them into the cyclone-devastated areas to oversee and help distribute foreign assistance.

In Singapore, an emergency meeting of foreign ministers from the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to set up an ASEAN-led task force for distributing foreign aid.

"This mechanism will facilitate the effective distribution and utilization of assistance from the international community, including the expeditious and effective deployment of relief workers, especially health and medical personnel," said Singapore's foreign minister, George Yeo.

Myanmar agreed to open its doors to medical teams from all ASEAN countries, Yeo said. ASEAN member Thailand had already sent teams in, as did non-ASEAN neighbors India and China.

Britain's secretary of state for international development, Douglas Alexander, welcomed ASEAN's initiative but added that his government was "continuing to press the Burmese government to accept direct assistance in the affected areas from the U.K. and other major donors."

Offshore are four U.S. ships laden with 14 helicopters, two landing-craft vessels, two high-tech amphibious hovercraft, and about 1,000 Marines - help that has been there for a week, but has been prevented by the country's military junta from delivering aid.

A deal may be in the works, however, to allow the U.S. flotilla - and French and British ships in the same situation - to finally join in the relief effort by putting Asian intermediaries in charge of ferrying aid from the ships to shore.

The U.N. secretary-general will arrive in Yangon on Thursday and stay until Friday night, when he will fly to Bangkok. He will return to Yangon on Sunday to cochair the pledging conference, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York. He will tour the battered delta during his visit.