Burma okays five more US military relief flights

May 16, 2008 (AFP)‚ The US military has received a "verbal okay" for five more C-130 relief flights into Burma but is pressing for permission to use helicopters to distribute supplies to cyclone-stricken areas, a senior US military official said on Wednesday.

Burma’s military government has not yet approved helicopter flights or larger flows of international aid, apparently for fear of losing control, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But he warned it risk outbreaks of civil unrest if it does not move more quickly to open up.

"I think what you’re going to start seeing is that people are going to start rising up," said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

"As this continues to go people are going to start finding out that their government is not doing the best they can," he said.

So far, eight flights by US military C-130s have been allowed into the country over the past three days with tons of food, water, plastic sheeting and mosquito nets.

"We’re planning to do another five (flights) early morning, our time frame. We’ve had verbal okay to do that. What we were trying to do is get helicopters in there as well," he said.

He said the US military is in the process of setting up refueling operations for helicopters at an airfield at Mae Sot near Thailand’s border with Burma and about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from Rangoon.

Six CH-53 heavy lift aircraft would then be able to fly directly to areas affected by the storm, which killed at least 34,000 people and left another 30,000 missing, he said.

Helicopters and landing craft also could move from the USS Essex and three other US warships that are now 30 nautical miles off the coast of Burma, he said.

"We’re trying to tell them the capacity on those ships is incredible. An LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushioned) can hold anywhere from two to four hundred people depending on how they are configured," said the official.

The Rangoon airport has space to handle no more than ten relief flights a day, he said.

"I think what we’ve been able to see is from the flights coming in is that stuff is starting to stack up at the airfield," he said. "That’s an indication that we know it’s needed out there, it just isn’t getting out there."

Admiral Timothy Keating, the commander of US forces in the Pacific, flew into Burma on the first relief flight on Monday to assure the military authorities that US intentions were strictly humanitarian.

"We have no intention of proceeding without Burmese permission. That was the reason I and our State Department colleagues went to Burma," Keating said in an interview Wednesday with National Public Radio.

"And again, they didn’t say no, so I think that the spigot will gradually open. But we have absolutely no intention of forcefully providing relief supplies," he said.

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