Home
 
Choose Your City
Change City

Myanmar seizes UN aid supplies amid warnings country on verge of catastrophe

GENEVA - Myanmar's military leaders seized aid shipments headed for cyclone survivors and told the top U.S. diplomat there Friday that they're not ready to let in foreign aid workers despite warnings the country is on the verge of a medical catastrophe.


GENEVA - Myanmar's military leaders seized aid shipments headed for cyclone survivors and told the top U.S. diplomat there Friday that they're not ready to let in foreign aid workers despite warnings the country is on the verge of a medical catastrophe.

Another 10 centimetres of rain was forecast to fall next week as more than one million people waited for food, clean water, shelter and medicine to reach them. Diplomats and aid groups warned number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000 because of illnesses and said thousands of children may have been orphaned.

The UN World Food Program said two planeloads of supplies containing enough high-energy biscuits to feed 95,000 people were seized Friday, prompting the world body to say it was suspending food-aid flights.

Later, chief spokeswoman Nancy Roman of the World Food Program, said flights would resume on Saturday while negotiations continued for the release of the supplies.

Myanmar's government acknowledged taking control of the shipments and said it plans to distribute the aid itself to the affected areas.

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, government spokesman Ye Htut said the junta had clearly stated what it would do and denied the action amounted to a seizure.

"I would like to know which person or organization (made these) these baseless accusations," he said.

The World Food Program's regional director, Tony Banbury, directly appealed to Myanmar's military leaders in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

"Please, this food is going to people who need it very much. You and I, we have the same interests," Banbury said. "Those victims - those one million or more people - who need this assistance are not part of a political dialogue. They need this humanitarian assistance. Please release it."

Shari Villarosa, the U.S. charge d'affairs in Yangon, said she met with Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu on Friday to discuss American relief operations.

Myanmar says it will accept aid from all countries, but prohibits the entry of foreign workers who would deliver and manage the operations. The junta is "not ready" to change that position, Villarosa said she was told.

The U.S. has an enormous ability to deliver aid quickly, evident during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.

In Ottawa, the House of Commons unanimously adopted a resolution Friday urging Myanmar's regime to accept international relief teams. The Canadian government acknowledged how hard it is to deal with the "very difficult regime" and said it will do all it can to help the storm victims.

More than 60,000 people are dead or missing and entire villages are submerged in the Irrawaddy delta after Saturday's cyclone. Many of the survivors waiting for food, clean water and medicine were crammed into Buddhist monasteries or camped outdoors.

The UN estimates 1.5 million people have been severely affected and has voiced concern about the disposal of dead bodies.

"Many are not buried and lie in the water. They have started rotting and the stench is beyond words," Anders Ladekarl, head of the Danish Red Cross.

About 20,000 body bags were being sent so volunteers from the Myanmar chapter of the Red Cross can start collecting bodies, he said.

The UN's World Meteorological Organization said its models forecast three days of strong rain that could dump 10 centimetres in Myanmar beginning Thursday or Friday.

Heavy rain could worsen the situation in the storm-affected coastal region, the meteorological agency said, though it cautioned that forecasts beyond five days could change.

In the village of Kongyangon, someone had written in Burmese, "We are all in trouble. Please come help us" on black asphalt, a video from the Norway-based opposition news network, the Democratic Voice of Burma, showed.

A short distance away was another plea: "We're hungry."

In Yangon, the price of increasingly scarce water has shot up by more than 500 per cent, and rice and oil jumped by 60 per cent over the last three days, the Danish Red Cross said.

The UN has grown increasingly critical of Myanmar's refusal to let in foreign aid workers who could assess the extent of the disaster with the junta apparently overwhelmed. None of the 10 visa applications submitted by the World Food Program has been approved.

"The frustration caused by what appears to be a paperwork delay is unprecedented in modern humanitarian relief efforts," Risley said. "It's astonishing."

The junta said in a statement Friday it was grateful to the international community for its assistance - which has included 11 chartered planes loaded with aid supplies - but the best way to help was just to send in material rather than personnel.

Andrew Brookes, an aerospace specialist at the IISS, an independent think tank, said Myanmar has about 15 transport planes but most are small jets not adequate to carry hundreds of tonnes of supplies. The country has fewer than 40 helicopters and only a fraction may be operational, he said.

"Even if they were all serviceable it's not even a drop in the ocean. The task is so awesome it would phase even a sophisticated force like the British, French or Germans," Brookes said.

It is not clear how much of aid has been delivered to the victims in the Irrawaddy delta.

"Believe me, the government will not allow outsiders to go into the devastated area," said Yangon food shop owner Joseph Kyaw.

"The government only cares about its own stability. They don't care about the plight of the people," he said.

Three Red Cross aid flights loaded with shelter kits and other emergency supplies landed in Myanmar Friday without incident.

"We are not experiencing any problems getting in (unlike) the United Nations," Danish Red Cross spokesman Hans Beck Gregersen said.

One relief flight was sent back after landing in Yangon on Thursday because it carried a search-and-rescue team and media representatives who had not received permission to enter the country, the junta said. It did not give details, but said the plane had flown in from Qatar.

According to state media, 23,335 people died and 37,019 are missing from Cyclone Nargis. Villarosa, head of the United States Embassy in Yangon, said the number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000 because of illnesses.

Grim assessments were made about what lies ahead. The aid group Action Against Hunger noted that the delta region is known as the country's granary, and the cyclone hit before the harvest.

"If the harvest has been destroyed this will have a devastating impact on food security in Myanmar," the group said.

The Canadian government has offered to send its military Disaster Assistance Response Team to the storm-ravaged country and has also pledged $2 million for relief efforts.

 
 
Consider AlsoFurther Articles