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Burma (Myanmar) aid logjam riles donors

UN members rejected a proposal Thursday to forgo junta permission and force aid in.

By David MonteroCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 9, 2008

CyClone-Stricken: A village in the Irrawaddy delta, in southern Burma, shows the effects of cyclone Nargis. The United Nations has estimated that Saturday’s cyclone left more than 1 million victims homeless. The international community is urging the country’s military junta to allow foreign aid workers and supplies to enter the diplomatically isolated country. So far, shipments have arrived from Japan, Bangladesh, India, Laos, China, Thailand, and Singapore, and the United Nations World Food Program, according to AP.

Burma News Agency via Xinhua

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In Burma's spiraling humanitarian crisis, the international community faces a uniquely confounding scenario: how to overcome the military government's foot-dragging response.

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Key international players rejected France's proposal that the United Nations should force aid into Burma (Myanmar) by invoking its "responsibility to protect" citizens when their government failed to do so.

The military regime's resistance to outside aid means that, almost a week after cyclone Nargis left as many as 100,000 dead and 1 million homeless, international shipments remain bottlenecked and most foreign aid workers still lack visas.

It also reflects a government mentality that may have left much of its populace unprepared for Saturday's cyclone, far less so than in many neighboring nations.

Critics say the lack of a disaster mechanism highlights the skewed priorities of Burma's Army-led regime. "The Burmese government prioritizes the military, not serving the people. They rule through public fear, not public support," says Win Min, a Burmese analyst in Thailand.

International aid bottlenecked

International figures from UN chief Ban Ki Moon to President Bush have urged the Burmese government to speedily accept badly needed humanitarian aid.

So far, shipments have arrived from Japan, Bangladesh, India, Laos, China, Thailand, and Singapore, according to the Associated Press. The UN World Food Program (WFP) delivered its first planeloads Thursday.

Relief agencies including the WFP, however, reported that many of their staff were still having trouble getting into the notoriously closed country, which has been ruled by a secretive military junta since 1962.

"A few visas are coming through. But there are still a number of key [UN] staff who have not gotten their visas," says Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, speaking from Thailand.

"This is clearly a concern, because it's critical that these key staff get in and begin coordinating relief efforts," Mr. Horsey continued.

Several international naval ships, including an American vessel, have also positioned themselves just offshore from the disaster site, with helicopters and supplies to aid in the assistance.

"We can intervene in the hours, or minutes, to come," said Mr. Kouchner, referring to French ships nearby. But they have not yet been given the go ahead, the Associated Press added.

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