Asean urges Myanmar to facilitate ‘expeditious execution’ of relief (Roundup)

May 21st, 2008 - 9:42 pm ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 21 (DPA) The Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) appealed to Myanmar’s junta Wednesday to facilitate its role as a liaison between it and the international community in speeding up disaster relief to the victims of Cyclone Nargis. Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan met Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein Wednesday to explain the association’s self-assigned role in a massive, but much delayed, relief effort underway in the country in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which swept over the central coast on May 2-3, leaving 133,000 people dead or missing.

“He (Surin) stressed that the expeditious execution of these steps would create an atmosphere of mutual confidence among all parties concerned,” said a statement issued by Asean after Surin’s meeting with General Thein Sein.

“This will ensure the success of the tremendous tasks at hand, including the upcoming Asean-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon on 25 May 2008, and the rehabilitation, resettlement, and reconstruction that will follow,” it added.

On Monday, Asean, of which Myanmar is a member, agreed to assume a liaison role between the country’s reclusive military regime and the international community, which has been growing increasingly irate about the government’s restrictions on logistics and foreign experts needed to make the emergency aid programme work.

Asean has set up a teak force to handle its new role, with Surin as its head.

The UN and Asean plan to hold a pledging conference in Yangon Sunday to raise more aid for the disaster relief programme and hopefully scale up operations significantly.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Bangkok Wednesday en route to Yangon, has called for more cooperation from the regime.

Ban is scheduled to fly to Myanmar Thursday, when he planned to travel to the Irrawaddy Delta, the region hardest hit by the cyclone.

“It is the worst natural disaster in the history of their country,” Ban said in Bangkok, adding, “This is a crucial time.”

Ban noted that 19 days after the disaster struck, aid had reached only 25 percent of the cyclone-affected people, estimated at 2.5 million.

The UN chief was to meet with Myanmar’s military supremo, Senior General Than Shwe, on Friday in Naypyitaw, the country’s capital, situated about 350 km north of cyclone-smashed Yangon, the former capital, UN humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes confirmed earlier Wednesday.

More than two weeks after the disaster, the international community is growing increasingly irate with the regime’s reluctance to open up its devastated country to a full-scale international emergency relief programme, complete with a logistical pipeline run by foreign aid experts.

The junta has refused to waive visa requirements for aid workers and has not permitted those allowed in to work in the Irrawaddy Delta, where most of the cyclone victims reside, many of them in remote areas inaccessible except by boat and helicopter.

In a minor breakthrough, Myanmar authorities Tuesday permitted the Word Food Programme (WFP) to bring in 10 UN helicopters to use in emergency food distribution, but hiccups remained even here.

“We received approval on 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 agency.

Fearing an outbreak of communicable diseases, including water- and vector-borne diseases, in cyclone-hit Myanmar, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has sent over 350 tonnes of medical supplies to the country from its regional headquarters in New Delhi.

“It is vital that the 2.5 million people severely affected by Cyclone Nargis are provided the emergency medical treatment needed to prevent a second wave of casualties from occurring,” said Eric Laroche, assistant director general for WHO’s Health Action in Crises and head of the Global Health Cluster effort.

In a statement issued in the Indian capital Wednesday, WHO said they have intensified efforts to prevent outbreaks of communicable diseases, including water- and vector-borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera, malaria and dengue.

The first UN helicopter, an 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 may 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 estimated that it has reached one-third of the 750,000 cyclone victims deemed desperately in need of food.

After meeting Than Shwe Friday, Ban plans to return to Bangkok for talks with donor nations and the Thai prime minister on Saturday before presiding over a UN-ASEAN conference Sunday designed to get pledges of more assistance for the Myanmar relief effort and to find ways to accelerate it.

Holmes said it was still unclear how many donor countries intended to attend the meeting in Yangon.

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