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UN: Burmese Authorities Not Moving Fast Enough to Let In Aid Workers

The U.N.'s humanitarian chief says he is disappointed with the government in Burma because it has not moved faster to allow in international aid workers and relief supplies to the cyclone-devastated country. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

John Holmes told reporters Thursday that the humanitarian situation in Burma is "increasingly desperate", and that an even worse disaster could unfold if aid agencies cannot get urgently needed aid in. He said he is disappointed the Burmese authorities are not moving to let foreign aid workers and supplies in quickly.

"The frustrations have been growing that this humanitarian response is being held back because of difficulties of access in different ways," he said.

He said there has only been limited progress since Wednesday. Four World Food Program flights have landed in Burma, and the Red Cross is also having some success in getting relief into the tightly controlled country.

But Holmes said that a U.N. disaster coordination team comprised of four Asian nationals that had clearance to enter Burma - which is also known as Myanmar - had met with mixed success. Two of the team members were allowed in, but two were turned away. He said the United Nations is still trying to find out why. A fifth team member who is not Asian and requires a visa, is still awaiting clearance.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the United States is shocked by the Burmese government's slow response to allowing in international assistance.

"We are outraged by the slowness of the response of the government of Burma to welcome and accept assistance," he said. "It is clear that the government's ability to deal with the situation, which is catastrophic, is limited. And a government has responsibility to protect its own people, to provide for its people. And since it is not able to, you would expect the government to welcome assistance from others."

Burmese officials estimate that Saturday's cyclone killed at least 23,000 people. Some 42,000 more are missing. But the top U.S. diplomat in Burma said Thursday that the death toll could exceed 100,000.

U.N. officials say more than a million more have been left homeless.

The United Nations plans to launch a flash appeal for Burma Friday. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes also says he is considering traveling to the cyclone-devastated country himself.