Friday, May 23, 2008


Yangon, 23 May 2008

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. This is a special occasion, in many ways, not least because my visit here is the first of an UN Secretary-General in 44 years.

I came here to give the people of Myanmar a message of hope---that the world is watching, and that the world is with you.

I must tell you. Flying over the Irrawaddy delta yesterday, I saw the saddest things: homes and villages destroyed, fields flooded, roads and bridges washed away, so many lives lost. We work hard in our lives, for ourselves and our families. And then, in a moment, it is gone.

I am humbled—humbled by the scale of this natural disaster, the worst your country has ever experienced, and humbled by the courage and the resilience of the Myanmar people. During my visit I heard the most tragic stories. At a refugee camp, villagers told me of the loss of their families, their loved ones, everything they owned. But I also saw homes—and lives—being rebuilt.

Life continues. I met a mother, living in a tent, who gave birth to a baby girl only hours before my visit. She was healthy. So is her infant daughter. They have a future. I told them my heart was with them, and to not lose hope. I know they will not, for they have already proved it.

And I told them that I—as well as the international community and the entire UN family—will do everything possible to help.

I am encouraged by my discussions with Myanmar’s leadership. From all I have seen, the government, with help from the international community, have put in place a functioning relief program. But I told them that more needs to be done. Their efforts need to be reinforced, quickly, by international experts with tested experience in handling emergencies.

In this regard, I specifically asked the government to liberalize visa policies and to grant unhindered access to foreign aid experts, and also journalists, so that they can operate freely and effectively throughout Myanmar. I also asked the government for permission to establish forward logistics bases in the affected areas so as to more efficiently distribute aid and coordinate assistance to those in need. I further requested the government’s cooperation in deploying the extra assets needed in such operations—among them transport boats and helicopters.

I am happy to report that we have made progress on all these issues. This morning, I had a good meeting with Senior General Than Shwe.

He agreed to allow international aid workers into the affected areas, regardless of nationality. He has taken quite a flexible position on an issue that, until now, has been an obstacle to organizing coordinated and fully effective international aid and assistance operations. He has also agreed that visa issue will be speeded up.

The Senior General also agreed that Yangon Airport could be used as a logistical hub for international aid, from which it could be more quickly distributed to those in need. He further agreed that international aid could be delivered to Myanmar via civilian ships and small boats.

I hope all these agreements can produce results quickly. Implementation will be the key. Finally, we have agreed on the kind of effective coordination and consulting mechanisms we need, and we are finalizing the details with ASEAN as well. I warmly welcome ASEAN’s leadership.

I return to Yangon for the international pledging conference on Sunday, where Myanmar’s partners will discuss these matters in greater depth. Our goal will be to focus on the immediate relief efforts, and also to look at the recovery phase which will have to start in parallel. We need to galvanize the leadership and resources required to give concrete expression to our good will toward Myanmar and its remarkable people.

Thank you. I have time for a few questions.

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