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UN Chief Heads to Cyclone-Stricken Burma


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon goes to Burma Thursday, where he plans to visit some of the hardest hit areas of the cyclone-devastated country and meet with the reclusive regime's top leaders. The U.N. chief will also attend a joint U.N.-ASEAN donors conference for the cyclone victims. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports the secretary-general's mission is purely humanitarian.

Mr. Ban's spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said Monday that the secretary-general would go directly to the areas hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis when he arrives in Burma - also known as Myanmar - on Thursday.

"His objective is to reinforce the ongoing aid operation, see how the international relief and rehabilitation effort can be scaled up and work with Myanmar authorities to significantly increase the amount of aid flowing through Yangon to the areas most affected by the disaster," she said.

One of the issues hampering the aid operation has been the Burmese regime's resistance to granting visas to international aid workers. Asked if the secretary-general had to apply for a visa, Montas said he has received one and is traveling at the invitation of Burma's U.N. ambassador. Despite that invitation, Montas said the secretary-general has still been unable to reach the country's top leader by telephone.

Mr. Ban will remain in Burma until Friday, when he will travel to neighboring Thailand for bi-lateral meetings ahead of Sunday's joint U.N.-ASEAN International Pledging Conference.

His brief trip to Bangkok means he will not be in Burma on Saturday, when the constitutional referendum is scheduled to take place in areas affected by the cyclone. The regime went ahead with plans to hold the referendum on May 10th in areas not affected by the storm.

His spokesperson said his trip is a purely humanitarian one, and Mr. Ban would not press the military government for more democracy or seek meetings with the country's opposition leaders.

"He is going to go and visit with the victims of the cyclone, it is going to be strictly a humanitarian visit," she said.

On Sunday, Mr. Ban will return to Rangon for the day, where the international donors conference will take place.

Mr. Ban's top humanitarian official, John Holmes, arrived in Burma on Sunday, and Monday visited three badly hit areas, including Labutta in the Irrawaddy Delta. He is scheduled to meet with Burmese government officials on Tuesday.