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Junta in Burma (Myanmar) presses ahead with vote, rebuffs most aid efforts

Critics say the junta's May 10 constitutional referendum is meant to enshrine military rule. Pledges of assistance continued to grow Friday.

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The UN and Red Cross have sent out about 15 assessment teams into the region that will report back in the next few days. The WFP has already issued an emergency appeal for $54 million, which would feed 630,000 people for six months, although that number could change when new information becomes available.

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The International Organization for Migration says it is asking for $8 million. The UN refugee agency says it needs $6 million to fund the immediate shelter and household needs of 250,000 people.

Aid pledges grow

As of Thursday, the UN had tallied donations of $25 million from 28 nations, the European Union, and charities. An additional $25 million has been pledged by donors.

That amount rose Friday, when Japan pledged $10 million in aid, through the UN. France announced that it was sending a navy ship loaded with 1,500 tons of humanitarian aid to Burma. The Gates Foundation also donated $3 million via aid agencies Mercy Corps, Worldvision, and CARE, and will provide software to help reunite family members separated in the cyclone, founder Bill Gates said.

A British travel company donated a luxury cruise liner to transport relief and 25,000 shoes were sent by a US-based international aid group, Soles4Souls, though the shipment was not yet allowed into the country.

The junta, said in a statement that it was grateful for outside assistance, which has included 11 chartered planes of supplies, but that the best way to help was to offer aid rather than personnel. The government itself was capable of delivering aid to affected areas, it asserted.

A flight from Qatar was turned back after landing in Rangoon Thursday because a search-and-rescue team and media members were on board who did not have clearance to enter the country. But the junta did agree to allow one American cargo plane to bring in supplies, though it continued to bar any foreign workers from coming in to distribute them.

Some analysts suspect that the military will start to allow in more aid workers in after Saturday's vote. The UN and a growing number of countries have urged the junta to open its borders – even China, a key Burma ally that says it does not like to comment on the "internal affairs" of other countries, has said it hopes Burma "will cooperate with the international community."

Yet the international community remains deeply divided on Burma. The US, Europe, Canada, and Australia have been largely uniform in calling for a more inclusive democratization process, while countries vying for Burma's rich natural gas resources – China, Russia, India, and Thailand, to name a few – have been much more subdued. Burma's neighbors are also more accustomed to large-scale natural disasters and would probably see little reason to postpone the referendum.

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