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Aid workers given access to delta area

May 29, 2008 (DVB), International relief workers have been given increased access to the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta by the regime's new permission system, according to a United Nations official.

Richard Horsey, spokesperson for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the relief operation remained a challenge, but the situation for international aid workers had improved in the last week.

"Yesterday the last visas that were waiting in the pipeline were issued, so we now are in a situation where there is no backlog of UN officials outside the country waiting to go in," Horsey said.

"There's also been positive development on access to the affected areas because now the authorities are implementing a new system of 48-hour notice, so that international staff can apply and receive permission within 48 hours," he said.

"So far there have been no major problems with this and a number of international staff have been travelling into the delta and out as well."

Horsey said that 137 visas had been issued to international UN staff since the cyclone.

Private Burmese donors have also been given permission to deliver aid in person to cyclone victims.

The government's National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee said in state media on 27 May that donors could go to any of the affected areas to make their donations.

Aid worker Zaw Thet Htway cautiously welcome the announcement, saying it could make aid distribution more effective.

"The announcement made by the government is good news for private donors and it will make things more convenient for delivering aid to the victims," he said.

"We can now talk it out with people who try to stop us as the government has officially permitted everyone to travel freely to the disaster zones to bring aid to the victims. I try to look at things in a positive way."

But another aid worker said it would remain to be seen if the regime's instructions would be followed by local officials.

"It’s hard to say anything at this moment," he said.

"Because sometimes, local authorities at the bottom do not acknowledge what the senior officials have said at the top levels."

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw and Nan Kham Kaew


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