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US to Withdraw Naval Vessels from Burma After Aid Refused

The U.S. military says it will withdraw its warships from the waters off Burma after the ruling military government refused to allow the ships to deliver relief supplies to the victims of last month's deadly cyclone.

In a statement released Wednesday, Admiral Timothy Keating, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, says the USS Essex and its support ships will leave Burma Thursday. Keating says the ships are leaving after the U.S. tried and failed more than a dozen times to convince the Burmese government to change its position.

The admiral says he is "both saddened and frustrated" to know the U.S. forces could have alleviated "the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people." Keating says the ships will return to Burma if the ruling generals change their minds.

The United Nations says about one million Burmese are still lacking food and water one month after Cyclone Nargis hit, leaving at least 134,000 people dead or missing.

A spokeswoman for the U.N.'s humanitarian assistance agency, Elizabeth Byrs, says aid groups have managed to reach 1.3 million people in the worst hit areas of the Irrawaddy Delta. But she says relief is still generally spotty and insufficient.

An official with the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, Hiroyuki Konuma, says Burma's farmers have not returned to Irrawaddy's rice paddies to begin preparing for the upcoming rice planting season because they lack adequate food and shelter. The official says if rice planting does not begin soon, Burma would suffer from serious food shortages.

The FAO says 16 percent of Burma's rice paddy fields were seriously damaged by the cyclone.

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