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World's top envoy entreats Burma (Myanmar)

United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon arrived Thursday and hopes to meet Burma's leader Gen. Than Shwe today.

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After flying in from Thailand, where hundreds of aid workers have been denied visas for Burma, Ban was escorted through a heavy security deployment of armed riot police dotting the road into the city. He visited Rangoon's Shwedagon pagoda, the spiritual heart of the country.

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"I praise the will, resilience, and the courage of the people of Myanmar. I bring a message of hope for the people of Myanmar," he said as bells chimed. Following local tradition, Ban removed his shoes and socks and stepped barefoot around the pagoda, handing the shrine's trustees a donation for cyclone victims.

Ban toured by helicopter the inundated Irrawaddy Delta, home to most of the 78,000 dead and 56,000 missing, by state estimates. He also visited a refugee camp, where Burmese occupied 100 new blue tents.

Ban has apparently tried to curry favor with the generals by not scheduling a meeting with their archenemy, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Confined to her Rangoon villa for most of the past 18 years, her current period of detention is due to expire Monday.

Ban told Prime Minister Thein Sein that mutual trust was needed between Burma and the international community, which was prepared to send in airplanes and helicopters to bolster the relief effort.

Burma: relief phase ending

In contrast to reports of an emergency situation in the delta, Thein Sein told Ban that the relief phase of the government's operation was ending and focus had now shifted to reconstruction.

But the International Red Cross says corpses still contaminate rivers and ponds in the Bogale area of the delta, and many people still need aid.

"In 30-plus years of humanitarian emergency work this is by far – by far – the largest case of emergency need we've ever seen," Lionel Rosenblatt, president of Refugees International, told the Associated Press. "Yet right offshore, right here in Thailand, we have the means to save these people."

A group of government officials, aid agency officials, and private donors from 29 nations, including Japan, Singapore, and Thailand, is to tour the delta Friday.

In Bangkok Thursday, Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which, with the UN, is backing the conference Sunday, said aid countries need to see the damage themselves.

Ban said Tuesday that the UN had received permission from the junta to use nine World Food Program helicopters to carry aid to victims in inaccessible areas.

The regime has been letting US military C-130 cargo planes fly in relief goods. But the state-controlled New Light of Myanmar said Wednesday that US helicopters and ships could not join the relief effort because of "strings attached."

"They are very aware that the US and the West helped Aceh," says Silverstein. "Even Muslims in Aceh were very pleased by the way they were treated. They would love to have the food and aid on their doorstep. But they don't want to seem eager."

He says the junta has declined foreign relief workers because it wants Burmese people to look only to them for leadership. "That," he says, "has been their teaching."