Governments urge Myanmar to open doors to cyclone aid

5 May 2008 – (AFP) – Governments on Monday urged Myanmar’s military junta to end entry restrictions as offers of help flooded in for the country after its devastating cyclone, as the official death toll passed 10,000.

As Myanmar’s authorities announced the revised toll from Tropical Cyclone Nargis, the United Nations said it already had teams working flat out after the weekend cyclone.

Some of the junta’s biggest critics meanwhile stepped forward with offers of relief.

Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the military junta had "shown their disposition to receive international aid after the cyclone but the modes remain to be determined."

Britain and Germany said the junta must now accept the global wave of help.

"We are deeply concerned by the situation in Burma (Myanmar) in the wake of cyclone Nargis, and saddened by the terrible loss of life," said a statement from Britain’s Meg Munn, a junior Foreign Office minister.

"The priority must be to mobilise aid to all those affected to avoid further suffering. We call on the Burmese regime to provide rapid support to its people and to accept international assistance."

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeyer also called on Myanmar to work with international aid agencies "to get an efficient aid operation underway."

Nargis struck Myanmar late Friday around the mouth of the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) river, south-west of Yangon, before hitting the country’s biggest city.

Foreign Minister Nyan Win said 10,000 people had been killed and an announcement on Myanmar state television said tens of thousands could have perished in areas where rescue workers had not yet reached.

The US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said a US disaster assistance response team was "standing by and ready to go into Burma (Myanmar) to help try and assess needs there." But it had apparently not received permission from the ruling junta in Yangon.

The dissident group, US Campaign for Burma, also called on Myanmar to let in more humanitarian workers.

The European Union released two million euros (three million dollars) in initial emergency aid.

Norway offered up to 10 million kroner (1.3 million euros/two million dollars) aid; Germany said it was sending 500,000 euros; and the United States said it was providing an initial sum of 250,000 dollars.

Japan is to give 28 million yen (266,364 dollars) in emergency aid, Kyodo news agency said.

Sweden said it would send generators and other equipment through the United Nations.

"We are very busy, we are worried that there are some thousands of people left homeless," added the UN’s Byrs.

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, has deployed five fact-finding missions, while the World Food Programme has delivered 500 tonnes of food to Yangon and generators to Cambodia, added the spokeswoman.

The UN was considering making an urgent appeal for Myanmar, she added. The Red Cross on Monday also said it was distributing food parcels and other aid to cyclone victims.

Save the Children spokeswoman Shaista Aziz said: "Communications lines are very badly affected so it’s making it hard for us to assess the extent of the damage.

"We are very concerned about the rural areas along the Irrawaddy delta because it’s densely populated."

Aziz went on: "In Yangon many homes have lost their roofs and displaced people are taking shelter in schools, mosques and churches. Many roads have been blocked by flooding and trees."

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