UN chief frustrated with Myanmar’s disaster relief (Second lead)

May 23rd, 2008 - 1:11 am ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 22 (DPA) United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Thursday held talks with Myanmar’s prime minister at which he expressed his frustration over the regime’s blocking foreign relief workers from going to areas hard-hit by Cyclone Nargis. Ban told Prime Minister Thein Sein that the disaster was beyond the capacity of Myanmar itself and international aid was required.

He also expressed frustration over “the inability of the aid workers to bring assistance at the right time to the affected areas,” said a UN official who attended the meeting.

“I’ve tried to bring a message of hope to your people,” the UN chief told General Thein Sein. “At the same time, I hope your people and government can coordinate the flow of aid so the aid work can be done in a more systematic and organized way.”

Myanmar’s ruling junta has come under increasing condemnation for impeding an international aid programme under way for victims of Cyclone Nargis which swept over Myanmar’s central coastal region May 2-3, leaving 133,000 dead or missing, according to government figures.

The UN estimates that the storm left another 2.5 million people in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medicine. Almost three weeks after the storm, international aid has reached only 25 percent of the affected people, a poor performance that is largely blamed on Myanmar’s rulers.

Ban met with Thein Sein for more than an hour in Yangon, before departing with his UN delegation in two chartered planes to inspect parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, the area hardest hit by the cyclone.

The disaster has also put the spotlight on Myanmar’s rulers, a military dictatorship that has lorded over its people for the past 46 years, earning the country pariah status among western democracies and proving an embarrassment for even its closest Asian allies.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta styles itself, has drawn international criticism for failing to facilitate international aid for its own people in the aftermath of the cyclone, and for refusing to hand out more visas to foreign aid workers and allow those inside the country to work in the most affected areas such as the Irrawaddy Delta.

On Friday, Ban is scheduled to head to the military’s new capital of Naypyitaw, about 350 km north of Yangon, for talks with junta head Senior General Than Shwe.

The UN chief said his priority for the trip is to “expedite all arrangements for facilitating the free movement of international relief aid and workers.”

He will return to Bangkok Friday night in order to hold talks Saturday with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and other Thai ministers.

Thailand, Myanmar’s eastern neighbour, has turned into the main logistical and organizational hub for the current international relief effort.

While thanking the Thai authorities, Ban said Wednesday that he wanted to set up logistical bases inside Myanmar as well, “in coordination with the government, to speed up the delivery of supplies and better coordinate our mutual assistance efforts.”

The UN secretary general will return to Yangon Sunday to preside over a UN-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) pledging conference for Myanmar, for the country’s short-term and long-term needs.

Last Monday, ASEAN agreed to act as a liaison between the international aid community and Myanmar’s junta. The grouping includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Myanmar estimates it will take $11 billion to rehabilitate areas hit by the cyclone.

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