Myanmar to allow foreign aid says UN's Ban Ki Moon

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Satellite photographs showing the region before and after the cyclone.
Image: NASA.

After travelling in-person to Myanmar, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Ban Ki-moon, has announced that international aid-workers will be granted access to the cyclone-ravaged country.

Ban, who met with Senior General Than Shwe — considered the head of Myanmar's military junta — told reporters, "I had a very good meeting with the senior general, particularly on these aid workers."

"He has agreed to allow all the aid workers, regardless of nationality. I urged him that it would be crucially important for him to allow aid workers as swiftly as possible and all these aid relief items also be delivered to the needy people as soon as possible."

International observers and aid organizations met the news with skepticism and were reported as "puzzled" and "surprised" at the announcement and expressed concerns that the offer was not genuine.

"We’ll believe it when we see the aid workers on the ground in the delta," Zoya Phan, of the Burma Campaign UK, said. "The generals have a long track record of lying to the UN. If the regime is genuine, then we’ll know within 24 hours, as they’ll take down the army checkpoints which are stopping Burmese and international aid workers getting into the delta."

"This discrepancy is a confidence gap that has to be verified, that has to be reconciled," said the ASEAN secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan. "Whether the Sunday pledging conference will be successful or not depends on the ability to reconcile the difference."

The UN says that over a million people are still in dire need of food, water, shelter and medical supplies, while the official Myanmar position is that "the emergency phase of the operation is over."

"Seeing is believing," said Tom Casey of the United States Disaster Assistance Response Team to reporters in Washington. "We certainly will continue to test that by pushing for visas for our DART team, among others, and hopefully we'll see a change in behavior."

US aid workers are still awaiting visas before they can enter Myanmar. Team leader William Berger was given a tour of the affected region along with a briefing, though he was not allowed to give his own assessment.