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    Myanmar closed to aid workers as storm approaches

    09.05.2008 - 10:45 | Son Güncelleme:

    Myanmar said Friday it was not ready to let in foreign aid workers, rejecting international pressure to allow experts in to help survivors facing the threat of disease and starvation. Reports warn that another storm was headed to the region. (UPDATED)

    The United Nations warned Friday that another storm was headed in the direction of Myanmar, which could further complicate the slow-moving relief efforts from deadly Cyclone Nargis.


    An estimated 1.5 million people have been left homeless by the disaster, which has killed tens of thousands, and the storm could pose serious risks to those battling disease, said Richard Horsey, a UN relief spokesman.


    "Our meteorological people tell us there’s likely to be fairly strong rainfall in the next seven days," he told AFP in neighboring Thailand.


    "That’s going to be a big issue with unpaved roads. Heavy rainfall could complicate things for all those people going without shelter," Horsey said


    One week after the devastating storm that killed tens of thousands, Myanmar’s ruling generals -- deeply suspicious of the outside world -- said the country needed outside aid for those still alive, but would deliver it themselves.

    The foreign ministry announcement came as a top U.N. officials warned time was running out to move in disaster experts and supplies to prevent diseases that could claim even more victims.     

    Instead, the ministry said some relief workers who arrived on an aid flight from Qatar on Wednesday had been deported.

    "Currently Myanmar has prioritized receiving emergency relief provisions and is making strenuous efforts to transport those provisions without delay by its own labors to the affected areas," it said.

    "As such, Myanmar is not ready to receive search and rescue teams as well as media teams from foreign countries."

    The military regime that rules this impoverished country, once known as Burma, has long been wary of any influences that could threaten the iron grip on power it has maintained for almost half a century.

    Even with the country battered by tragedy, the generals insist they will hold a constitutional referendum on Saturday, brushing off criticism they are ignoring the plight of the homeless while devoting resources to the vote.

    Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyis National League for Democracy said the junta should delay the vote on a document her party says will merely enshrine military rule.

    "With this situation, it is not the appropriate time to hold the referendum," NLD spokesman Nyan Win told AFP.

    The extent of the catastrophe unleashed by Cyclone Nargis has also put the regime under intense international pressure to postpone the vote and open up the country, where only a handful of outside aid groups are allowed to operate under strict controls.

    "The situation is getting critical and there is only a small window of opportunity if we are to avert the spread of diseases that could multiply the already tragic number of casualties," said Noeleen Heyzer, the top U.N. official for the Asia-Pacific.

    Rotting bodies of people and animals are piled up in many places across the remote southern Irrawaddy delta, where the storms high winds and waves washed entire villages away.

    In many places, the stench of death is overwhelming. Houses have been demolished, roads and bridges are damaged and huge swathes of land are still underwater a week after the disaster hit.

    The United States has said the death toll could be around 100,000, but the regime on Thursday increased its official death toll by 17. It gave figures of 22,997 dead, 1,430 injured and 42,119 missing.

    Compounding the disaster, the worst-hit area was the major rice-growing region, wiping out the main local food source until the government is able to deliver supplies.

    "Now I do not have money to buy essential food items," said 75-year-old Thant Aung, who said his whole village in the Kyaklate delta district was destroyed.

    "We have less food to eat. I am borrowing money from my friends to keep my family going."

    The World Food Program said another plane laden with energy biscuits, emergency medical tents and other gear landed Friday in Myanmar’s main city Yangon, which is several hours drive from the worst-hit areas.

    In its statement, issued before the latest plane, the foreign ministry said 11 aid flights had landed so far and the world could help by sending cash and emergency supplies, rather than aid workers.

    "The donors and the international community can be assured that Myanmar is doing its best," it added.

    Other nations are divided on whether they have the right to force Myanmar, whose most powerful ally is China, to open up to humanitarian intervention.



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