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UN halts aid to Myanmar after junta seizes supplies

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080509/ap_on_re_as/myanmar_cyclone UN halts aid to Myanmar after junta seizes supplies 52 minutes ago YANGON, Myanmar - A U.N.
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080509/ap_on_re_as/myanmar_cyclone

      UN halts aid to Myanmar after junta seizes supplies

      52 minutes ago

      YANGON, Myanmar - A U.N. official says the World Food
      Program is suspending cyclone aid to Myanmar because
      its government seized supplies flown into the country.

      He says the WFP has no choice but to suspend the
      shipments until the matter is resolved.

      WFP spokesman Paul Risley said Friday that all "the
      food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has
      been confiscated." The shipment included 38 tons of
      high-energy biscuits.

      Risley said it is not clear why the material was
      seized.

      THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for
      further information. AP's earlier story is below.

      YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The United Nations blasted
      Myanmar's military government Friday, saying its
      refusal to let in foreign aid workers to help victims
      of a devastating cyclone was "unprecedented" in the
      history of humanitarian work.

      While the junta dithered and appeared overwhelmed by
      last Saturday's disaster, more than 1 million homeless
      people waited for food, shelter and medicine. Many
      crammed into Buddhist monasteries or just camped out
      in the open.

      Entire villages were submerged in the worst-hit
      Irrawaddy delta, with bodies floating in salty water
      and children ripped from their parents' arms. At least
      62,000 people are dead or missing, state media
      reported, and aid groups warned that thousands of
      children may have been orphaned and the area is on the
      verge of a medical disaster.

      On Friday, Japan said it will give aid worth $10
      million through the U.N. to Myanmar, adding to the
      massive amounts of aid that has been pledged by
      foreign governments.

      But while accepting international aid, the
      isolationist regime of this Southeast Asian nation has
      refused to grant visas to foreign aid workers who
      could assess the extent of the disaster and manage the
      logistics.

      "The frustration caused by what appears to be a
      paperwork delay is unprecedented in modern
      humanitarian relief efforts," said Paul Risley, a
      spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program in Bangkok.
      "It's astonishing."

      He said the WFP submitted 10 visa applications around
      the world, including six in Bangkok, but none has been
      approved.

      "We strongly urge the government of Myanmar to process
      these visa applications as quickly as possible,
      including work over the weekend," he said.

      The junta said in a statement Friday it was grateful
      to the international community for its assistance —
      which has included 11 chartered planes loaded with aid
      supplies — but the best way to help was just to send
      in material rather than personnel.

      One relief flight was sent back after landing in
      Yangon on Thursday because it carried a
      search-and-rescue team and media representatives who
      had not received permission to enter the country, the
      junta said. It did not give details, but said the
      plane had flown in from Qatar, apparently referring to
      a U.N. flight.

      The announcement came as critical aid and experts to
      go with it were poised in neighboring Thailand and
      elsewhere to rush into Myanmar, one of the world's
      poorest nations.

      "Believe me the government will not allow outsiders to
      go into the devastated area. The government only cares
      about its own stability. They don't care about the
      plight of the people," said Yangon food shop owner
      Joseph Kyaw, one of many residents angry at the regime
      for doing little to help them recover from the storm's
      destruction.

      Among those waiting in Thailand were members of the
      USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. Air Force
      transport planes and helicopters packed with supplies
      also sat waiting for a green light to enter Myanmar,
      also known as Burma.

      Myanmar allowed the first major international aid
      shipment Thursday — four U.N. planes carrying
      high-energy biscuits, including one which was
      apparently turned back. On Friday, state-owned
      television showed a cargo plane from Italy with water
      containers, food and plastic sheets at Yangon
      international airport.

      It is not clear how much of the aid is reaching the
      Irrawaddy delta. The U.N. estimates 1.5 million people
      have been "severely affected" and voiced "significant
      concern" about the disposal of dead bodies.

      A Norway-based opposition news network, the Democratic
      Voice of Burma, provided graphic details of misery. In
      the village of Kongyangon, someone had written in
      Burmese, "We are all in trouble. Please come help us"
      on black asphalt, a video from the opposition group
      showed. A few feet away was another plea: "We're
      hungry," the words too small to be seen by air
      rescuers.

      According to state media, 22,997 people died and
      42,019 are missing from Cyclone Nargis, which hit the
      country's Irrawaddy delta on Saturday. Shari
      Villarosa, who heads the United States Embassy in
      Yangon, said the number of dead could eventually
      exceed 100,000 because of illnesses.

      Grim assessments about what lies ahead continued: The
      aid group Action Against Hunger noted that the delta
      region is known as the country's granary, and the
      cyclone hit before the harvest.

      "If the harvest has been destroyed this will have a
      devastating impact on food security in Myanmar," the
      group said.

      Anders Ladegaard, secretary-general of the Danish Red
      Cross, called the relief operation "a nightmare."

      "There are problems to the aid inside (Myanmar) and
      there are problems to get the aid out to the delta
      area. There are almost no boats and no helicopters,"
      Ladegaard said by satellite telephone to Danish
      broadcaster DR.

      In Yangon itself, the price of increasingly scarce
      water shot up by more than 500 percent, and rice and
      oil jumped by 60 percent over the last three days, the
      group said.

      Hardships in the country's largest city have prompted
      some embassies, including that of the U.S., to send
      diplomats' families out of the country.

      Although the military regime had begun allowing in the
      first major international aid shipments, it snubbed a
      U.S. offer to help cyclone victims.

      By doing so, the junta refused to take advantage of
      Washington's enormous ability to deliver aid quickly,
      which was evident during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
      that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.

      With roads in the Irrawaddy delta washed out and the
      infrastructure in shambles, large swaths of the region
      are accessible only by air, something few other
      countries are equipped to handle as well as the U.S.

      Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej told reporters
      Friday that he will try to go to Myanmar on Sunday to
      persuade the junta to accept U.S. help.

      But the junta told Samak his Myanmar counterpart is
      too busy to meet with him, said a Thai army general,
      speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not
      authorized to speak to the media.

      But a Taiwanese Buddhist leader who just returned from
      Yangon said Friday that Myanmar had mobilized soldiers
      and civilians to transport aid to cyclone victims.

      "They try to handle the relief work by themselves as
      much as possible because they don't have the time to
      deal with external criticism," Master Hsin Tao said.
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