Saturday, May 17, 2008

US lawmakers ask Bush to consider Myanmar 'intervention'

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US lawmakers have asked President George W. Bush to consider "humanitarian intervention" in cyclone-hit Myanmar after its military rulers refused to allow foreign experts to direct relief efforts despite rising deaths.

Forty-three members of the House of Representatives wrote to Bush on Friday asking him to "strongly consider" backing efforts by France, Britain, Germany, Denmark and other nations to gain entry into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta region "to provide urgent life-saving humanitarian aid."

From both sides of the aisle, the lawmakers asked the US leader to "immediately and urgently" consult other supportive and regional governments as Myanmar's military junta said Friday more than 133,000 people were dead or missing in the cyclone disaster.

The new toll -- nearly double Thursday's official figure of 71,000 -- came two weeks after the storm left the country's rice-growing south in ruins, and as the junta again rejected calls to let foreign experts direct the massive relief effort for 2.5 million needy survivors.

The lawmakers said Bush should pursue the talks to determine the extent to which the United States could provide support for a "peaceful international humanitarian intervention and life-saving humanitarian aid" to Cyclone Nargis victims amid "the military regime's intransigence."

The junta has insisted it can manage the catastrophe alone, despite urgent international pleas to open up their doors and avert a second wave of death among desperate victims short of food, water, shelter and medical care.

The generals have accepted hundreds of tonnes of relief supplies but have all but sealed off the disaster zone, keeping out most foreigners and insisting that the country can rebuild on its own.

The American lawmakers said it now appeared that China would block any move by the UN Security Council to authorize relief because of the objections of Myanmar's junta.

US helicopters, ships, trucks, and airplanes filled with life-saving supplies meanwhile sit unused in Myanmar's neighboring countries, they noted.

"We now face the possible death of 2.5 million people in Burma (Myanmar). Thirteen days after the cyclone hit, there is no more time to wait," they warned in the letter dated Thursday and sent Friday.

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has also written to Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, saying the UN Security Council should authorize immediate shipments of aid to Myanmar "over the objections of the military regime."

"The refusal of the Burmese military regime to accept full, adequate humanitarian aid from the international community is nothing short of criminal, and unprecedented in recent history," said the former South African archbishop.

He said that the Myanmar regime had "effectively declared war on its own population and is committing crimes against humanity."

France's ambassador to the United Nations made similar warnings Friday and appealed in a UN General Assembly session for the United Nations to react "very strongly" to the Myanmar military regime's defiance.

Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters in New York that the tragedy was "moving slowly from a situation of not helping people in danger to a real risk of crimes against humanity, and we cannot accept that."

"Tens of thousands of lives have been lost, hundreds of thousands could be lost," he added.

The UN's top humanitarian official John Holmes was set to arrive in Myanmar's main city Yangon on Sunday, sent by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to push Myanmar's military leaders to open the country up more to foreign assistance.

Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbors were gearing up for talks in Singapore on Monday aimed at convening a high-level donors meeting, perhaps as early as May 24 in Bangkok, a UN source said.

Myanmar dissident and pro-democracy groups meanwhile said they would hold protests and vigils on Saturday outside the White House and in Australia, France, Hong Kong, Thailand, Canada, Chile and the Czech Republic to back the calls for humanitarian intervention in Myanmar.

Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma (Myanmar), said: "We cannot wait any longer for nations to sit around and talk about aid relief.

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