Sunday, May 25, 2008

Junta still delaying aid work


By Supalak G khundee

The Nation

The UN-Asean international pledging conference in Rangoon yesterday failed to end the Burmese military junta's restriction on access for international aid workers to the cyclone-devastated areas.

"They have opened more, at least granting permission for foreign media and some international aid workers to see the devastated areas, but it is not unhindered access," said Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama.

Entry visas for international aid workers would be considered and granted on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Despite the well-attended conference, with some 500 participants, the two remaining challenges for the international community are securing access for aid workers and assistance, Noppadon said.

The one-day conference, in which 52 nations and 25 international organisations took part, began on a note of optimism following promises by the junta that foreign aid workers could enter the most devastated areas from which they have been banned since the cyclone struck three weeks ago.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after a meeting with the junta's paramount leader Than Shwe the general would allow "unhindered access" for international aid workers.

"I hope this marks a turning point in tackling the challenges facing this country," Ban said as the conference convened with a minute of silence for the victims of the cyclone.

Burmese officials told the meeting that the cyclone on May 2-3 left 77,738 dead and 55,917 missing. Some 3,200 tonnes of humanitarian supplies from abroad have already been delivered.

Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, who chaired the meeting with UN chief Ban and Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, the current Asean chairman, suggested the rescue and relief phase was over and called for US$10.7 billion in foreign funding for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

But the donors will not dig into their pockets unless the junta guarantees transparency and accountability. The amount of donations at the conference is far below the actual need.

Thailand has already provided $12.09 million and offered Don Mueang Airport as a launching pad for the assistance. China announced assistance of $10 million.

The United Nations has received about $50 million in contributions and about $42.5 million in pledges.

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