Prodding Burma's (Myanmar's) neighbors
Western states want Asian nations to pressure Burma to accept help.
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"They have their own team to cope with the situation," Mr. Samak said, citing Burmese Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Sein. "From what I have seen, I am impressed with their management."Skip to next paragraph
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He said the Burmese generals told him that they're in control of relief operations and don't need foreign experts.
The junta did agree to allow Thai medical teams to go to the delta on Friday, said Thawat Sutharacha of Thailand's Public Health Ministry. The junta has also promised to allow 160 relief workers from nearby countries to come in.
Largely sidelined since the cyclone hit, Western aid workers, who are accustomed to taking charge in disaster zones, might have to reluctantly accept a role in the passenger seat in order to get things done – the Burmese way.
"Everyone should be dealt with equally. But the reality is that a lot of Asian countries prefer to deal with other Asians," says James East, spokesperson for World Vision, which has 580 staff inside Burma, including an Indonesian, Ethiopian, and Japanese who are leading relief efforts.
"I think a lot of aid agencies will be looking to supplement their relief efforts by positioning Asian staff in Myanmar. It's easier for Asian staff to get visas for Myanmar," he continues. Sending in Asian nationals reflects the changing reality of international relief groups, Mr. East says. "It's not really about bringing in white faces from Western countries. It's about sourcing expertise globally."
Doctors Without Borders, which already has 43 international staff plus about 1,200 local workers, says it still needs to get in more experts in sanitation and logistics. "We want to get as much aid in as possible, and as fast as possible," says Veronique Terrasse, an officer with the nongovernmental organization.
Burma's weak social services can be seen in the only hospital in Myawaddy, where mongrels and a woman carrying mangosteens on her head are free to wander into grimy, windowless rooms where mosquitoes buzz. The country of 50 million people has four medical colleges. Doctors here earn $3 a day and work at private clinics after hours to get by.
A day's journey through the state apparatus in Myawaddy shows how difficult it is for foreigners to deal with officials who lack decision-making power and experience with Westerners, whom the regime continues to blame for centuries of imperialism. At the Basic Middle School, children play in a sewer in front of signs in English declaring it a "Drugs Free School." A teacher shoos a way a lone foreigner listening to kids singing and playing complex Burmese drum beats using an iron railing, a plank, and a bottle. "Visiting is not permitted," she says.
At Myawaddy's high school, a teacher hurries to close a gate on a visiting foreigner. "It is not permitted," she says.
Staff writer Peter Smith contributed to this story.