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Burma Grants Visas to Relief Workers, But Little Access to Delta

International relief agencies say Burma's military government has been granting visas to a larger number of foreign relief workers this week. But the agencies complain that once in Burma, the authorities are preventing many from traveling to the Irawaddy Delta areas hit by Cyclone Nargis, which left nearly 134,000 people dead or missing. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.

U.N. officials say in the past week since General Than Shwe told visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon he would allow foreign aid workers in the country regardless of nationality, the Burmese authorities have been issuing visas. But the officials say few of those relief workers are being permitted to go into the Irawaddy Delta, where the storm leveled entire villages and where an estimated 2.4 million people are in dire need of adequate water, food and medical attention.

Among those who have not received visas are members of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Disaster Assistance Response Team, who have been waiting in Bangkok for weeks.

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric John said the United States is not giving up its efforts to provide aid and expertise when Burma allows it.

"So far no word that they can, but also so far no word that they cannot," he said. "That is why we are still pushing ahead, pushing on this with the Burmese and we still think that it is valuable to get them in."

Also standing by are U.S. Navy ships loaded with purified water and other supplies off the Burmese coast in the Andaman Sea. Washington says it intends to keep the ships in place, but the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific Admiral Timothy Keating said this week that would likely be only for matter of days, not weeks.

U.S. officials say that while Burma has been allowing more aid to flow in than in weeks past, there is no indication of a change in the Burmese generals' policy of not allowing a larger-scale delivery of aid.

The United States has pledged $23 million for relief efforts and sent in more than 70 relief flights to the main city, Rangoon.

More than relief supplies, Burma's generals have suggested they need money and have requested $11 billion for reconstruction.

A state-run newspaper in the country criticized the international community for not giving enough toward that effort. The newspaper blasted donor nations for falling short of the $201 million target set by the United Nations in a flash appeal this week.