Burma military regime asks for help in managing relief operations

Burma’s military regime has invited representatives of several countries to visit the cyclone-hit delta in a bid to deflect criticism that it is mismanaging relief operations, diplomats said today.

Burma’s embassies in various countries sent invitations to host governments, seeking at least three representatives from each country to visit the Irrawaddy delta, an Asian diplomat said.

The diplomat said the invitations asked the governments to send a cross-section of representatives, preferably from the government, aid agencies and private sector donors.

It was not clear how many countries had been invited or which ones were chosen. US diplomats said they have not received any invitation. Neighbouring countries, including friendly governments such as India, China and Thailand, are seen as the most likely.

The junta has faced international outrage for not allowing foreign aid experts to visit the delta to assess the damage from when Cyclone Nargis hit on May 2-3. It says it has handed the relief operations capably, declaring that it is now time for reconstruction.

But aid agencies say some 2.5 million survivors are living in miserable conditions without enough food, drinking water or proper shelter.

According to the new invitation, the representatives have been told to arrive in Rangoon on Wednesday and attend a briefing by the government on Thursday. They will be flown to the delta on Friday, said the diplomat.

Another diplomat confirmed the information, noting that Burma’s junta appears to be opening “the door wider”.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were disclosing information that has not been officially made public.

At least 134,000 people were killed or disappeared in the cyclone, the worst natural disaster Burma has had to deal with in recent memory.

The planned tour of foreign representative will take place two days before the junta hosts a meeting with donor countries in Rangoon.

Burma foreign minister Nyan Win told his Southeast Asian counterparts today in Singapore that the losses from the cyclone are estimated to exceed £5bn (€6.2bn).

The military regime allowed the UN humanitarian chief into the devastated Irrawaddy delta for a brief tour today.

But the United Nations said its foreign staff were still barred from the delta and described conditions there as “terrible” with hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims suffering from hunger, disease and lack of shelter.

John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, flew by helicopter to the delta before returning to Rangoon, for a working lunch with international aid agencies, said a UN official.

British Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown hinted yesterday that a breakthrough may also be near that would allow foreign military ships to join the relief effort, but warnings grew of a potential second wave of deaths – this time among children who lack fresh water and proper shelter.

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