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Aid Agencies Test Burma's Pledge to Allow Assistance

An official with the World Food Program says the Burmese government has given some aid workers access to cyclone-struck parts of the country, where they found people who had not eaten for days.

The World Food Program's Paul Risley told reporters in Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday that Burma issued seven visas to WFP staffers on Monday, which he said was a record.

He said such steps are small, but encouraging.

The WFP says it has delivered food rations to half a million people since Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma's agricultural belt May 3, but officials say many more people still need aid.

Witnesses say people are lining the region's few roads, begging people in passing cars to give them something to eat, while police at checkpoints are admonishing drivers not to respond to them. Water sources in the area are littered with the bodies of animals and humans.

Aid agencies say there is plenty of money to fund relief efforts, if the Burmese government will allow open access to international teams that can assess need and monitor the way the aid is distributed.

Burma's military government has previously been reluctant to allow foreign relief workers into the country. But it pledged at a donors' conference Sunday to allow aid workers unrestricted access to cyclone-hit areas, where the storm left at least 134,000 people dead or missing.

Burma's Prime Minister General Thein Sein told delegates the foreign aid is welcome as long as it is offered without conditions.

Although the United Nations says three out of four survivors have yet to receive any form of relief assistance, the Burmese government says the emergency relief effort is over, and has requested $11 billion for reconstruction.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.