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
Risley said it is not clear why the material was
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
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
"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.
He said the WFP submitted 10 visa applications around
the world, including six in Bangkok, but none has been
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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.