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US Diplomat Says Burma Cyclone Deaths Could Exceed 100,000


The senior U.S. diplomat in Burma said Wednesday the death toll from the cyclone that hit the southeast Asian country late last week could exceed 100,000. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meawnhile says the United States is trying to mobilize countries in the region to press the Burmese government to admit more aid workers and supplies. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The top U.S. diplomat in Burma says the situation in the stricken areas of the country is sounding more and more horrendous as reports of damage and casualties trickle in. She says when the final death toll emerges, there could be well over 100,000 fatalities.

American charge d'affaires in Rangoon Shari Villarosa spoke to Washington reporters in a telephone conference call, as the United States tried to maximize political leverage on the military government in Burma to accept more outside aid.

Officials here say U.S. diplomats have urged the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, India and Japan, among others, to try to get the reclusive regime to respond adequately to what is being described here as a humanitarian disaster of immense scope.

At a press event with Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki, Secretary of State Rice said she is gratified by the willingness of the international community to respond to the disaster but that the Burmese government has thus far largely refused outside help.

"What remains is for the Burmese government to allow the international community to help its people," she said. "It should be a simple mater. This is not a matter of politics. This is a matter of a humanitarian crisis. And it should be a matter that the government of Burma wants to see its people receive the help that is available to them."

The Bush administration has committed more than $3 million to cyclone relief and has indicated it is ready to provide considerably more, if Burma admits U.S. disaster teams to survey actual needs.

U.S. military assets in the region are also prepared to begin airlift and rescue operations in Burma. But the military government, which accuses the United States of trying subvert its rule, is considered unlikely to accept an American military presence on its soil.

U.S. diplomat Villarosa in Rangoon said the figure of 100,000 potential deaths - far higher than the current estimated toll - was based on contacts with relief groups.

She said working-level Burmese officials with whom she has been in contact realize that the country needs large-scale outside help.

But she said those in decision-making positions - 200 kilometers away in the new official capital in the town of Pyinmana - are removed from the situation and have yet to respond.

Villarosa said she doubts that U.S. criticism of the Burmese government's human rights record is a factor in its lack of response, and that it is what she termed a very paranoid regime that has traditionally been suspicious of the internatioanl community.

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