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US to Continue Burma Aid Despite Diversion Worries


The top U.S. foreign aid official said Wednesday the United States will continue an airlift of emergency supplies intended for Burmese cyclone victims despite reports at least some aid has been diverted by military authorities. U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Henrietta Fore says the immense needs of the victims outweigh other considerations. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. aid officials say there are signs the Burmese government may be easing its curbs on outside aid workers, and that American relief supplies will continue to be flown into Rangoon, despite reports that not all the material is reaching those in need.

USAID administrator Fore spoke to reporters here amid accounts from news agencies and non-governmental groups that some aid has been confiscated by the Burmese military and is showing up for sale in local markets.

Administrator Fore, just back from the region including a trip to Rangoon with the first U.S. aid flight, told reporters she is aware of the reports but that for the time being at least the airlift will continue because of the magnitude of the need.

"We will continue to monitor daily. We do continual assessments to make sure that food is getting through to people who need it. We will try to do on-the-ground assessments. But at this time the needs are so immense, they are so large, that we're taking some risks, to hope that we can get the assistance through to the ones who are most in need," she said.

As of Wednesday, Burmese authorities had allowed eight planeloads of U.S. relief supplies to land in Rangoon but declined offers of help with the distribution of supplies and rejected outside oversight of the process.

Fore said a USAID disaster assistance team remains stuck in neighboring Thailand, refused entry by Burmese authorities.

However, the U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN - Scot Marciel - said Burma has authorized the entry of some relief experts from countries in the region.

"We heard today that the Burmese authorities had granted permission for foreign experts to come in from neighboring countries, including China, India, Bangladesh and Thailand. So I think some of the ASEAN states will be trying to take advantage of that opportunity. I think nearly all the ASEAN's have been trying since this disaster to use their contacts with the Burmese authorities to convince them to allow greater international access," he said.

The United States has thus far committed more than $17 million to Burmese cyclone relief and has indicated it would pledge considerably more, if U.S. experts could enter the country to make first-hand assessments of needs and the integrity of the distribution process.

The monitoring group Human Rights Watch Wednesday said it had confirmed a news agency report that high-protein biscuits flown in from abroad had been seized by Burmese authorities, and that low-quality local substitutes were delivered to areas in need.

Human Rights Watch urged governments to insist on direct monitoring, saying delivery of supplies can't be left entirely to what it termed the abusive and ill-equipped Burmese military.