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Burma Admits US Aid Coordinator, But Still Bars Team Members


The State Department said Thursday Burma has granted a visa to the head of the U.S. assessment team assigned for duty in that country's cyclone disaster. But other members of the U.S. Agency for International Development - USAID - team continue to stand by in Bangkok as they have since shortly after the May 3 storm. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say Burmese authorities granted a visa to USAID disaster expert William Berger for a two-day government-conducted tour Thursday and Friday of the country's hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta region.

However, they caution that the move does not appear to indicate that the military government is prepared to admit the several other members of Berger's disaster assessment team who have been waiting to enter for more than two weeks.

The Bush administration has pressed Burma to admit the USAID team for a first-hand appraisal of needs and logistics in the cyclone-ravaged area, and says that without a report from the experts it cannot make an informed decision on further U.S. contributions.

At a press briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said Berger was chosen to be the U.S. representative on the tour, instead of a member of the American embassy staff in Rangoon, because of his expertise:

"The rest of the team hasn't been given visas and he's not been given permission to conduct his own assessment or the kind of things he'd do as team leader," he said. "He's just the person that will be representing the U.S. government on this tour for foreign governments that the regime is sponsoring."

"We thought it was important though to have him be the representative rather than someone else from the [U.S.] mission simply because it will at least give someone with real expertise at least some kind of overview of some of the area and what's going on," he added.

Under normal circumstances, a U.S. assessment team precedes large-scale American aid in a disaster zone, coordinating deliveries and assuring that items provided actually reach those in need.

Despite the lack of direct access, and press reports of some diversion of supplies, the United States is continuing an airlift of basic relief items to Rangoon.

Spokesman Casey said U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo planes made five flights Thursday carrying bottled water, plastic sheeting, mosquito netting and other items.

He said in three of the flights, the supplies were handed over directly to non-governmental groups - the preferred procedure in the absence of U.S. personnel on the ground.

Casey said the U.S. charge d'affaires in Rangoon, Shari Villarosa, will be the U.S. representative Sunday at the donors conference there organized by the United Nations and ASEAN to be attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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