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Bush Offers More Help for Burma


The United States is pledging more than $3 million to help Burma recover from Saturday's cyclone that killed more than 22,000 people. U.S. President George Bush says more help could be provided if Burma's military rulers allow American relief officials into the country to assess the situation. International Red Cross says revised death toll of nearly 22,500 makes Cyclone Nargis deadliest storm since 1991. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

The new assistance raises U.S. contributions to Burmese relief efforts to $3.25 million. President Bush says he wants to do even more.

"We are prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, and to help stabilize the situation," he said. "But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country. So our message is to the military rulers: Let the United States come and help you help the people."

The U.S. State Department says it has been told that an American assessment team will not be allowed inside Burma. White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino says U.S. aid is not conditional on that assessment team and the United States will continue to help through the United Nations if the team is blocked.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says there are several Navy ships in the area that could help, including the USS Essex which has landing craft, helicopters, and six operating rooms with medical facilities for 600 patients at a time.

"We're now working with the State Department and with U.S. Pacific Command to at least begin the planning for a possible humanitarian assistance [mission]," he said. "But that's all we can do at this point is to plan because we have not received a request from the Burmese government."

While welcoming outside assistance, Burma's military rulers have told aid agencies that relief workers will still need visas.

The United Nations is asking Burma to relax those requirements so assistance can quickly reach those needing shelter, food, and medical assistance. Officials say about 41,000 people are missing, and the toll is expected to rise as information comes in from hard-to-reach places.

In addition to U.S. assistance offers, India has dispatched two naval ships with food, tents, blankets and medicine, and the European Union is pledging $3 million in humanitarian aid. Chinese President Hu Jintao is promising $1 million cash and relief supplies.

Cyclone Nargis hit at a crucial time for Burma's military-led government, which was scheduled to hold a nationwide referendum on a new constitution this coming Saturday in hopes of dampening international criticism of its crackdown on anti-government protesters last year.

Burma's rulers say the referendum will lead to democratic elections in 2010. Political opponents say the new charter will reinforce military control.

President Bush spoke from the Oval Office Tuesday after signing legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

"This is a fitting tribute to a courageous woman who speaks for freedom for all the people of Burma, and who speaks in such a way that she is a powerful voice in contrast to the junta that currently rules the country," he said.

Asked if the recognition for Burma's detained opposition leader might complicate efforts to work with the military in providing aid, spokeswoman Perino says U.S. support for Aung San Suu Kyi has been clear for many years, and that position will not change. She says that does not affect Washington's promise to help those affected by the cyclone.

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