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Pressure Mounts on Burma to Help Cyclone Victims

As hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims go without food, water and medicine, Burma's military leaders are refusing to grant access to international disaster teams who want to help them. The official death toll is more than 22,000 people. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia Bureau in Bangkok.

Several countries and the United Nations said they have aircraft ready to deliver much-needed food, water, medicines and other relief supplies to those who are stranded in the flooded areas of Burma's Irawaddy Delta - the rice-growing region that was the scene of the worst devastation.

Diplomats in Burma say the death toll may reach 100,000 people, with as many as a million others left homeless.

Most victims have yet to receive any aid and officials say the full scope of the disaster will not be truly known until disaster teams go in to assess the damage. For now, relief supplies are sitting on airplanes and store houses outside Burma.

A sign of hope emerged earlier Thursday, when it was widely reported Thai officials said Burma agreed to allow a U.S. military C-130 cargo airplane to deliver humanitarian supplies.

But later in the day, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric John said no such airlift was happening. He said there had been a miscommunication.

"This morning (Thursday) what they had from the Burmese government was permission for us to use the C-130," Ambassador John said. "Since then that decision, I think, has been taken back by the Burmese and they are still - I think I would characterize it as it is still - under study by the Burmese authority. So we do not have permission yet for the C-130 to go in."

Burma's military, which has controlled the country since 1962, has been reluctant to accept assistance for disasters because of suspicions that a foreign presence might be subversive.

In his remarks to reporters, the U.S. diplomat presented members of an American disaster assistance response team, waiting in Bangkok for visas to go into Burma to start helping people. The envoy says the Burmese generals have nothing to fear.

"I just want to kind of demystify this, maybe not for you all, but at least if the Burmese leadership can see," Ambassador John said. "These are the people (who) we want to send in. These are humanitarian workers. They are ready to go in to help. They are not going in to overthrow the government. They are not going in to spy. They have specific skills for immediately responding to disasters."

Humanitarian workers from several countries lined up at the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok to present applications for visas. The majority of them were turned away.