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UN Humanitarian Chief in Burma to Boost Cyclone Aid Effort

The United Nations' efforts to increase assistance in cyclone-battered areas of Burma are to be stepped up with arrival of the U.N. humanitarian affairs chief, in Rangoon. Burma's military has put the official death toll at 78,000 people with another 56,000 missing. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, South East Asian foreign ministers meet Monday in Singapore Monday to discuss regional cooperation in responding to the disaster.

The arrival of the United Nation's humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes, Sunday, in Burma, marks further international efforts to pressure the military government to open the country to increased international assistance.

The death toll from cyclone Nargis, that hit the country more than two weeks ago, has soared in recent days.

Holmes has been sent to Burma by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to push the military to ease restrictions on foreign assistance personnel. Several naval vessels including those from the United States and Britain are in the Andaman Sea with emergency assistance on board.

Restricting foreign assistance has led to strident calls by western governments to pressure the military to allow more foreign aid into the worst affected areas in the Irrawaddy Delta region.

Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the United Nations relief efforts, told reporters earlier, Holmes' talks with aid organizations and Burma's military government are aimed at spurring aid to the hardest-hit regions of Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"Clearly what he is hoping to achieve is to try and work with as many partners as possible to consult with everybody on the ground and of course to cooperate with the government of Myanmar to try and just get the response we need up scaled to meet the needs of the people on the ground," she said.

International assistance and human rights groups are warning delays are increasing health and welfare threats to populations still struggling to recover from the storm amid ongoing seasonal monsoon rains.

The U.K.-based Save the Children Fund warned Sunday thousands of young children in cyclone-hit areas face starvation within weeks unless emergency food supplies reach the areas soon. The United Nations has estimated that up to one million children are in need of urgent assistance.

"We've all seen from the assessments that have been done and the reports that are coming out that millions of people - up to 2.5 million possibly are in need of aid,” said U.N. spokeswoman Amanda Pitt. “I think it's clear to everybody that's working on the ground there's enormous need and that need is not being met."

South East Asian foreign ministers are due to meet Monday in Singapore to discuss ways to "assist Burma in its relief and recovery efforts". The bloc, the Association of South East Asian Nations - ASEAN - of which Burma is a member, is facing criticism over its delays in acting to support relief efforts.