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Aid Groups, Governments Appeal for More Access to Burma


Days after a deadly cyclone swept through Burma, governments and aid organizations around the world are ready to help, but Burma's military government has allowed very few aid workers to enter the country. As VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington, these groups want the international community to put more pressure on Burma to let them in.

Burma has agreed to accept some foreign aid, but insists that its own nationals distribute the supplies. Humanitarian groups are growing increasingly frustrated at the military government's refusal to let the aid workers in.

Tony Banbury is the United Nations World Food Program's Asia Director in Bangkok. In a video teleconference with a forum in Washington, Banbury said hours of negotiations with Burmese officials to admit food deliveries went nowhere.

"We prepared a letter, had it hand-delivered. The response back was, 'No, you cannot have any supplies,'" he said.

The World Food Program (WFP) flew in 38 tons of food, enough to feed 95,000 people a day, as well as health supplies. The Burmese government impounded the materials. WFP officials say they will resume aid flights to Burma on Saturday.

U.S. officials are also appealing for access to Burma. Military authorities are banning a U.S. disaster response team from visiting devastated areas. Ky Luu, the director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, says humanitarian aid is not a threat, even to countries that do not have friendly relations with Washington.

"Our message is clear to the authorities as we provide assistance globally elsewhere," he said. "This is humanitarian assistance. This is needspace. If you allow our teams to be able to come in and allow us to be able to work with the international community as a whole, we will be able to make a difference."

Meanwhile, public health officials are warning that unsanitary conditions and malnutrition will lead to disease epidemics. Dr. Chris Beyrer, with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says tens of thousands of more deaths are likely to result in Burma from cholera, e-coli and childhood measles.

"It is a recurring problem when this happens in disasters, that you have outbreaks of childhood measles," he said. "Immunization coverage rates are relatively low in some of these areas. We do not have great date on coverage, but there is an expectation that measles will be an outbreak."

Burma's government-in-exile is also calling on the military leaders to allow humanitarian aid workers to enter the country. Sein Win is the prime minister of the government, which was democratically elected in 1990, but not allowed to take office. At a press conference in Washington, he said he wants international pressure on China to put pressure on Burma's junta to let the workers in.

"We want China to tell the military this is not time for delaying tactics, no time for that," he said. "Let the relief mission come in and start their work."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other officials have also appealed to Burma's military leaders to postpone Saturday's constitutional referendum. The government has said it will go ahead with the vote.

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