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UN Secretary-General to Send Humanitarian Chief to Burma


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is sending his humanitarian chief to Burma to address the growing crisis created by Cyclone Nargis.

Mr. Ban told reporters in New York Wednesday the U.N.'s John Holmes would travel to Burma in the coming days on a World Food Program airplane packed with humanitarian aid.

It is unclear if Burma's reclusive military government will approve Holmes' visit. Burma's leaders have declined most offers of foreign aid workers. They also have been slow to accept shipments of food, water and supplies.

Mr. Ban held an emergency meeting Wednesday with representatives from Burma, neighboring countries and members of the U.N. Security Council. The U.N. chief said Burma's ambassador assured him the Burmese government would do all it can to assist the emergency response.

Nearly two weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma's Irrawaddy delta, 38,000 people have been confirmed dead.

Officials say the death toll could rise to more than 100,000 people as famine and disease take hold. The Red Cross says 2.5 million people may have been affected by the storm and its aftermath.

Mr. Ban said the international community has expressed its commitment to provide the necessary assistance to help the cyclone's survivors.

He said he would try to address the situation as a humanitarian crisis, not a political issue. But he said the situation might be politicized if the international community is not able to reach the Burmese people in need.

The U.N. humanitarian chief said Wednesday that Burma has invited neighboring Thailand, India, China and Bangladesh to send 160 humanitarian workers.

But Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Burmese officials have assured him they do not need foreign experts to help distribute relief supplies. Mr. Samak said during a brief visit to Burma Wednesday, authorities denied famine or disease had broken out, and said relief facilities have been set up for 600,000 people.

Weather forecasters are predicting more heavy rain for Burma, which could make flooding in the country's agricultural belt even worse.

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