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ASEAN Warns Burma to Boost Confidence Ahead of Donors Meeting

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) says that claims by Burma's government that rescue efforts from cyclone Nargis were over was undermining international confidence with the total death toll still unknown. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok the ASEAN chief's comments came as the United Nations secretary general met with Burma's Prime Minister in efforts to speed up relief efforts and ahead of a donors meeting on Sunday.

Association of South East Asian Nations Secretary-General, Surin Pitsuwan, speaking to reporters Thursday, said claims by Burma's military that relief efforts were over and for reconstruction to go ahead was undermining international confidence.

Mr. Surin said international agencies were still saying the full extent of the disaster has yet to be "fully verified."

"This discrepancy is a confidence gap that has to be verified, that has to be reconciled because that is the gap that is going to create confidence or lack of confidence for the claim that the rescue and relief phase is over," he said. "The shared concern is we don't know the extent of the damage, we don't know the numbers of the dead, the numbers of the missing or the numbers of the displaced."

Burmese authorities say the cyclone that hit May 2 and May 3 killed an estimated 78,000 people, and that 56,000 others are still missing. Some 2.5 million people remain in need of critical aid and the United Nations says just 30 percent of those in need have received assistance.

ASEAN foreign ministers reached agreement this week with Burma for greater access for regional assistance. ASEAN and the U.N. formed the "coalition of the mercy" with the purpose of stepping up relief. Burma's military has been widely criticized for restricting access to international aid agencies to the worst affected regions.

On Thursday U.N. Secretary, General Ban Ki-moon, met with Burma's Prime Minister, Thein Sein, to press the military to open the country to greater access to international relief. Mr. Ban is due to meet with Burma's senior General Than Shwe Friday.

Mr. Ban's visit comes ahead of a donor's conference scheduled for Sunday. Burma says the total cost from the cyclone now stands at $11 billion.

Non-government aid organizations are calling on the international community to support the ASEAN initiative to assist Burma by way of the donor's meeting. Dr. Jermail Mahmood is president of Mercy Malaysia.

"ASEAN must know that it is not alone and it must know that it has the support from international aid agencies who have the experience behind them to play an active role in ensuring that the humanitarian response imperative comes first and beyond that the recovery and reconstruction as well," said Dr. Mahmood.

But human rights groups are concerned aid funds are accounted for and meet international standards amid fears of corruption. Debbie Stothardt, is spokeswomen for the rights group, the Alternative ASEAN Network. She says transparency and accountability will be foremost in donor's minds.

"What we need to see from the aid community is a very strong, united response not just a call for money but to actually insist that rules and criteria be adopted," she said.

Aid organizations say Burma is allowing more aid to be flown in planes carrying emergency supplies, including from the United States. But they say more relief is needed given the scale of the disaster.