Door edges open at Myanmar pledging conference (Roundup)

May 25th, 2008 - 8:35 pm ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 25 (DPA) Most donor nations Sunday stopped short of making new pledges for relief for victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar as they were awaiting more details on access and accountability, but observers described the meeting as a step forward. “It was a reasonable success,” Frederich Hamburger, European Union (EU) envoy to Myanmar and Thailand, said of a United Nations-ASEAN sponsored pledging conference held in Yangon Sunday, almost three weeks after Cyclone Nargis smacked into the country’s central coast leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing.

In recent weeks, Myanmar’s response to the catastrophe has been widely criticised for throwing roadblocks in the way of an international relief effort, by slowing the logistics of getting emergency supplies to an estimated 2.4 million needy victims of the cyclone and for reluctantly granting visas to foreign relief experts keen to enter the country and the areas hardest hit by the storm.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon scored a diplomatic success Friday when he won assurances from Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Than Shwe that the regime would grant visas to “all” foreign aid experts.

On Sunday, Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein clarified that all aid and aid workers were welcome on the provision that they came with “no strings attached.”

“We will warmly welcome any assistance and aid which are provided with genuine good will from any country or organisation providing that there are no strings attached, nor politicisation involved,” Thein Sein told the conference.

The conference attracted representatives from about 44 countries, several UN agencies, ministers from the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Red Cross movement and at least five non-governmental organizations.

The conference, co-chaired by UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes and ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan, hoped to get donor countries to open their chequebooks for ongoing disaster relief and soon-to-be needed reconstruction work in the Irrawaddy, which is Myanmar’s traditional rice bowl.

“Some countries like China made new pledges, but most are still waiting to see more details on access, accountability and for a thorough assessment of the damage done,” said Hanke Veit, Myanmar director for the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO.)

“But the conference was a success in the sense that it was another step in the right direction,” she added. “What’s needed now is to see what the new procedures are for granting visas and access to the Irrawaddy.”

A Berne despatch added: Difficult relations with Myanmar’s military regime make it impossible for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to work there, its president told a Swiss Sunday newspaper.

“The government is making it impossible for us to do our task - bringing aid to the people in the conflict-ridden areas on the border to Thailand,” Jakob Kellenberger told the newspaper.

Last June, he had complained to the government in Yangon “in no uncertain terms about the conditions in prisons and that the ICRC had been denied access to them.”

“You can imagine that my public declaration in Myanmar had raised a few eyebrows,” he added. But conditions there remained unchanged -although the ICRC delegation had been allowed to stay in the country.

“When the cyclone hit, we were already there and were able to react early - albeit on a modest scale,” said Kellenberger.

Around 2.4 million people are in need of aid, according to United Nations estimates. The military regime has put the toll at 133,000 dead or missing.

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