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UN Secretary-General Talks Relief in Burma

The United Nations secretary-general hopes to persuade Burma's leaders to allow the free movement of relief workers and supplies to areas hit by a devastating cyclone. Ban Ki-moon made the comments on his way to Burma to assess relief efforts. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Wednesday he hopes new cooperation will allow relief efforts to expand quickly in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"Our aim is to make sure that our immediate relief and longer-term efforts are well coordinated, efficiently delivered and effective in helping Myanmar's people to overcome this terrible tragedy," Mr. Ban said.

Mr. Ban stopped in Thailand before heading to neighboring Burma, Thursday. There he plans to push the country's leaders to allow aid workers and supplies to flow freely into the country to help victims of Cyclone Nargis.

He said he hopes to meet with Burma's leader, General Than Shwe, who earlier refused to take phone calls from the U.N. chief.

The death toll from Cyclone Nargis, which came ashore May second, is about 78,000 people, with 56,000 missing. Burma's reclusive military government has barred most foreign disaster workers from the country since the storm and has allowed in only limited aid supplies.

Before leaving New York, Mr. Ban said the U.N. had gained clearance from Burma's government to bring in emergency supplies by helicopter.

There are deep concerns over how much assistance has reached hundreds of thousands of storm survivors. Relief agencies says just a small portion of those in need have received adequate help.

Burma has been under intense pressure to ease restrictions to allow greater access to foreign aid workers.

This week the Association of Southeast Asian Nations persuaded Burma to allow in emergency medical workers from Asian nations. But reports Wednesday said foreign aid workers were still barred from the hardest-hit areas.

Before arriving in Thailand, Mr. Ban said he was confident relief efforts will be scaled up quickly. The secretary-general will attend a donors meeting in Burma on Sunday.

The U.N.'s chief for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, has been preparing the way for Mr. Ban's visit. Holmes has told Burmese leaders the scale of the disaster had outweighed the capacity of any country to deal with it alone.

Burma's state media reported Wednesday the government refuses aid from United States Navy ships sailing in waters nearby. French and British navy ships also are in the region, but it is not clear if they will be allowed to take in aid goods. Burma, however, is accepting, supplies flown into Rangoon by the U.S. military.