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ICRC To Deliver Relief Supplies To Burmese Detainees

A Red Cross plane loaded with 35 tons of equipment and materials has landed in Burma. The International Committee of the Red Cross says most of the relief supplies are to assist thousands of people held in Burmese prisons. Meanwhile, a boat carrying Red Cross supplies to survivors of Cyclone Nargis has sunk in the Irrawaddy Delta. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

Red Cross Spokesman Marcel Izard tells VOA the plane, which landed early Sunday, is the first of what is expected to be many flights carrying relief goods for survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

"It is first and foremost intended to provide or to cater for detainees held in prisons or in other detention facilities that have also been hit by the Cyclone Nargis," said Marcel Izard. "This is because the Myanmar authorities had requested us immediately in the aftermath of the Cyclone to help them to cater in terms of medical supplies, food, water and temporary shelter for these detainees who are now also in dire conditions."

Izard says he does not know how many detainees there are. But, he estimates as many as 5,000 to 10,000 are being held in prisons and labor camps in four of the severely affected provinces.

Red Cross delegates had been visiting Burmese prisoners on a regular basis between 1999 and 2005, when the government stopped the program.

Izard says Red Cross delegates are looking forward to providing emergency assistance to those affected by the disaster.

"Even if we have not been allowed to go in during the last two years, we still were allowed to help families of those detainees to visit them on a regular basis," said Izard. "So, the ICRC was obviously still in contact with the prison authorities of Myanmar. So, they know us very well. They know the ICRC is worldwide catering for detainees and that is the reason when the cyclone struck they thought of us and said well let us call the ICRC to help us to help those in prison and in the labor camps affected by the cyclone."

Izard says the prison buildings have been hard hit by the storm. He says the roofs have fallen off and the water and sanitation systems have been damaged or destroyed. He says the Red Cross will provide the prisoners with clean drinking water, shelter, food and health care.

He says the cargo plane also brought relief supplies for the civil population. These include medical supplies to treat 250 trauma patients and a mobile water-treatment plant to provide drinking water for 10,000 people.

He says the plane also brought in 2,300 bags to help dispose of dead bodies in a dignified manner. He says there are not enough of them, but it is a start.