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International Aid Pledged for Burma Cyclone Relief

The international community is pledging emergency aid for Burma, following the devastating cyclone that has killed thousands of people. But the speed of the assistance reaching those who desperately need it may be delayed by a military government wary of outsiders, even in times of disaster. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

India has dispatched two naval ships with food, tents, blankets and medicine to help people in regions of Burma devastated by Cyclone Nargis.

The European Union is pledging $3 million in humanitarian aid, and Chinese President Hu Jintao is promising $1 million cash and relief supplies.

The United States, which is among the countries with economic sanctions on Burma, is making $250,000 available from an existing emergency fund at its embassy in Rangoon. But the U.S. State Department says it has been informed that an American assessment team will not be allowed in the country.

Thailand and Bangladesh say they will donate building supplies.

Burma's hard-line military government, while welcoming outside assistance, has told aid agencies that relief workers will still need visas to enter the country.

The United Nations says it is asking Burmese officials to relax the requirement so that assistance can quickly reach those needing medical aid, food, and shelter.

Spokesman Matthew Cochrane of the International Committee of the Red Cross says thousands of Burmese Red Cross workers are fanning out into the Irawaddy River delta, the region hardest hit by last Friday's storm.

"We're already out there distributing some preliminary and essential relief items - mosquito nets, tarpaulins, water purification tablets, for example," said Cochrane. "But obviously it is something that is going to need to increase dramatically in the coming days."

The Red Cross official calls the level of devastation monumental, comparing it to the earthquake and tsunami that hit South Asia in December 2004.

"It is important that the international community really come to the party at this, because this is a massive disaster and it is going to require significant assistance," said Cochrane. "And we are looking, at the moment, we think upwards of a million people have been affected by this disaster."

Burma receives only a few dollars per capita of international aid. That is a result of the outside sanctions imposed more than a decade ago and Burmese government restrictions that hinder international aid organizations desiring to assist Burma, one of Asia's poorest countries.