Myanmar junta OKs UN helicopters for relief deliveries

May 21st, 2008 - 2:48 pm ICT by admin  

Bangkok, May 21 (DPA) Myanmar’s junta has allowed the World Food Programme (WFP) to bring 10 helicopters into the country to deliver emergency supplies to thousands of victims of Cyclone Nargis, 19 days after the storm struck, officials confirmed Wednesday. “We received approval Tuesday, but we still have not been able to work out the specific agreement with the Myanmar authorities for bringing in ground operation crews for the helicopters and where the helicopters will be used,” said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the UN aid agency.

The first UN helicopter, a M18P based in Malaysia, would be sent to Yangon Thursday, but the remaining nine are likely to face several days of delays as they are flown in from various locations, reassembled in Bangkok and delivered to Yangon - and only after details on where and how the aircraft can be used are hashed out with Myanmar authorities.

“Obviously, from our point of view, the need for the helicopters is urgent,” Risley said.

The WFP, which is handling the logistics for a multimillion-dollar disaster-relief operation in Myanmar, requested permission to use its own helicopters in the country almost immediately after Cyclone Nargis crashed into Myanmar’s central coast May 2-3.

The cyclone left at least 133,000 people dead or missing, according to government estimates, and another 2.5 million in need of food, water, shelter and medicine.

The emergency relief programme for reclusive Myanmar, which has been run by military dictatorships since 1962, has been severely hampered by logistical and visa restrictions put in place by the ruling regime.

The WFP estimated that 19 days after the cyclone, it has reached about one-third of the 750,000 people it deemed in desperate need of food and water.

Many of the villages hardest hit by Nargis live on the remote fingertips of the Irrawaddy delta in areas reachable only by boat or helicopter even before the storm.

The governments of the US and France have anchored ships off the delta equipped with military helicopters that could deliver emergency supplies to cyclone victims within 20 minutes should Myanmar’s military give the go-ahead.

But the junta, long the favourite whipping boy of Western democracies because of its atrocious human rights record and refusal to introduce democratic reforms, has refused to accept the aid invasion.

It has also refused to accept offers from Thailand and other South-East Asian allies to dispatch their military helicopters to assist with relief efforts.

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