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US Raises Burma Relief Donations to $16 Million

The United States has delivered its first load of humanitarian supplies for victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma, and announced it is raising its relief donation to more than $16 million. A U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft landed in Burma's main city, Rangoon, in what Washington hopes is the start of a larger effort to help cyclone victims. The Burmese government now says more than 28,400 are confirmed dead and more than 33,000 remain missing. VOA Southeast Asia Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.

The U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft left a Thai air force base in the town of Utapao loaded with pallets of bottled water, mosquito netting, and blankets - the first shipment that Burma's military government has allowed the United States to deliver.

Burma's government had been reluctant to accept any U.S. aid, even as thousands, perhaps millions, faced the threat of hunger and disease in the aftermath of the disaster. U.S. officials called Burma's acceptance of the first planeload of supplies an important step in getting the country to start receiving more aid that survivors desperately need.

On the first relief flight was the top commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, who met with Burmese officials in Rangoon Monday. Upon his return to Bangkok, the admiral told reporters he had offered the full help of the U.S. military. He said 4,000 U.S. Marines in the region, along with a fleet of C-130s, and helicopters which are part of joint exercises in Thailand, are prepared to help now.

"They are in place in Thailand ready to go forward as soon as the Burmese would give us permission to do so," Admiral Keating said. "We have three ships that are approaching the southwest Burmese coast in international water very close to the shoreline in 36 to 48 hours. So, we have a broad array of personnel and equipment and we're ready to respond as soon as the Burmese give us permission. We did not get that permission today."

U.S. officials describe their meetings with Burmese deputy ministers and other officials as cordial, but indicated the Burmese made few concessions. Henrietta Fore, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, - also on Monday's relief flight - says progress was made.

"We left Utapao with the hope that we could lay the groundwork for a broader United States assistance effort and I believe that our discussions were a good first step,' she said. "We see it as a beginning, but this will take time."

Fore announced the United States is raising its contributions to relief efforts in Burma from $3.2 million to more than $16 million. She said the additional $13 million will go to the United Nations World Food Program for hunger relief efforts in Burma.

The announcement came as WFP officials said they have been able to meet only 20 percent of the needs of the storm survivors who are going hungry. At the same time, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization said Monday the price of rice has gone up 50 percent in Burma's markets since the cyclone hit.

International aid agencies are keeping up their calls for the Burmese government to issue visas to relief workers and allow more aid to go in. They warn deteriorating sanitary conditions and the spread of disease could kill millions, especially as forecasts this week call for heavy rains in hard-hit regions of the Irawaddy Delta.

Burma's reclusive military government has been accepting small quantities of aid, but has been reluctant to admit large numbers of western relief workers.