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Laura Bush Makes Another Appeal to Burmese Government

First lady Laura Bush is appealing to the military government of Burma to allow U.S. relief planes and ships to bring aid to that nation, ravaged by a cyclone May 2. Burmese officials say at least 78,000 people are dead, and another 56,000 are missing.

In an interview Wednesday [May 21] with the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau, Mrs. Bush also refuted claims by the Burmese government that the U.S. has attached conditions to its offer of aid. VOA's Robert Raffaele has more.

First lady Laura Bush said she is alarmed by United Nations estimates that as many as eight in 10 of the Burmese people affected by the cyclone have not received help.

"The U.S. could be doing a lot if they were allowed in. We do have Navy ships that are off the coast of Burma that are equipped with a lot of things for a disaster," Mrs. Bush said. "They have big desalination trucks that they could drive off in and make clean water, fresh water for people, out of salt water. And I think that would be very important."

Burma has agreed to accept nine U.N. helicopters to deliver emergency aid, but the country's generals have barred U.S. naval ships from delivering larger aid shipments.

Military officials in Washington said Wednesday the U.S. had sent four more aid flights, bringing the total to 40.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper has said U.S. aid would come, quote, "with strings attached" (conditions). But the first lady denied that claim. She says, "There are no strings. But I will say that even though the official newspaper said that, we have not heard that officially. And so, I still want to urge the military rulers to let the United States, let the people of the United States help - because we can help in such a very successful way, because of the equipment that we have that's available that people could use."

Earlier this month, the first lady held a rare White House press conference. She urged, then, that Burma's military leaders quickly accept help. She also called the military government "very inept" for not warning of the cyclone.

Mrs. Bush now says even if Burma rejects direct U.S. aid, the Bush administration will use international efforts to help the Burmese people, "We'll continue to work with all the international organizations that are allowed in Burma: the World Food Program, ASAEN, UNICEF - - all of those," she added. "We can channel our aid through them as much as we can, all the good NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that are on the ground working."

Mrs. Bush says the people of Burma should know the entire international community is trying to help.