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UN Chief Optimistic Burma Will Open to Cyclone Relief

The United Nations secretary general said after a weekend international donors' conference in Burma he is optimistic the military government there will give international aid workers unhindered entry into the country. As Ron Corben reports for VOA from Bangkok, donor nations are willing to give Burma more than $100 million in emergency relief if they are given access to the areas hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Sunday after a donor meeting he was confident Burma's military government would stand by agreements reached last week to open Burma to more international assistance.

The military in Burma has been under intense international pressure to ease restrictions on foreign aid workers to improve relief and recovery efforts especially in the devastated Irrawaddy delta regions. The United Nations and the Association of South East Asian Nations reached an agreement with Burma, also known as Myanmar, to open assistance and relief efforts. Mr. Ban had direct talks with the military government's leader, General than Shwe.

"The Myanmar government appears to be moving toward the right direction to implement these accords. Some international aid workers and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] have already gone into the regions of the Irrawaddy without any problem," said Ban Ki-moon. "I hope and believe that this marks a new spirit of cooperation and partnership between Myanmar and the international community as a whole."

The international donor's conference was aimed at speeding up relief efforts from the cyclone that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. The U.N. estimates that over two million people still require emergency assistance. Burma's military estimates the damage caused by the cyclone to be around $11 billion.

Aid organizations are expecting to see an increase flow of relief and technical assistance to the hardest hit regions of the country. U.N. Children's Fund spokeswoman for East Asia, Shantha Bloemen, says the conference offered hope relief efforts would be increased.

"All the indications are positive and obviously," said Shantha Bloemen. "We definitely need to get more aid and relief in as quickly as possible to the country and especially to those affected in remote areas. All of this is a positive indication and we're hoping that this means that in the next few days both more technical experts and humanitarian relief workers can get into the country and down to the affected areas."

Several countries including the United States, which has already provided more than $20 million in assistance, say more assistance will be provided if international experts have access to areas receiving relief.

Australian representative at the donor meeting, Bob McMullan, said his country would be contributing $24 million in assistance and would keep a close watch on the spending.

"We will be very rigorous in scrutinizing the disbursement of assistance," said Bob McMullan. "But at this stage we have no reason to be apprehensive that those sorts of arrangements won't be sufficient."

International agencies are warning of food shortages in the medium term unless Burma's rice producing Irrawaddy Delta is quickly restored for the next planting season in the next two months.