Burma regime 'wants aid but not aid workers'

Burma's isolationist regime indicated today it wants international relief but not foreign aid workers.

A recent cyclone may have killed more than 100,000 people and left countless others without food, medicine and shelter.

A Foreign Ministry statement said one relief flight was sent back after landing in Rangoon yesterday because it carried a search and rescue team and media who had not received permission to enter the country.

"Currently Burma has prioritised receiving emergency relief provisions and making strenuous effort delivering with its own labour to the affected areas," said the statement carried in the state-owned New Light of Myanmar (Burma) newspaper.

The announcement came as critical aid and experts to go with it were poised in neighbouring Thailand and elsewhere to rush into the military-ruled nation, one of the world's poorest.

Burma was grateful to the international community for its assistance, which has included 11 chartered planes loaded with aid supplies, the statement said. But it emphasised that the best way to help was just to send in material rather than personnel.

"Believe me the government will not allow outsiders to go into the devastated area. The government only cares about its own stability. They don't care about the plight of the people," said Rangoon food shop owner Joseph Kyaw, one of many residents angry at the regime for doing little to help them recover from the storm's destruction.

Among those stranded in Thailand were members of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. Air Force transport planes and helicopters packed with supplies also sat waiting for a green light to enter Burma.

"We are in a long line of nations who are ready, willing and able to help, but also, of course, in a long line of nations the Burmese don't trust," US Ambassador Eric John told reporters in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, yesterday.

Burma snubbed a US offer to help victims of an earthquake which may have taken more than 100,000 lives.

It allowed the first major international aid shipment yesterday however - four UN planes carrying high-energy biscuits.

Today, state-owned television showed a cargo plane from Italy with water containers, food and plastic sheets at Rangoon international airport.

Burma's government issued an appeal for international assistance after winds of 120 mph and a storm surge up to 15 feet high pounded the Irrawaddy delta Saturday.

The junta has been accused of dragging its feet however, despite emerging reports on entire villages submerged and bodies floating in salty water.

More than 20,000 are known dead and tens of thousands more are listed as missing, and the UN estimates more than one million people are homeless.

"The most dramatic situation is the case of children who have lost their parents. (There are) more children roaming around this area looking for their families. We don't know at the moment how many have lost their parents, relatives," said Juanita Vasquez, a representative of the UN Children's Fund in Burma.

Four airplanes carrying high-energy biscuits, medicine and other supplies reached Rangoon yesterday, one of them having flown from Qatar, UN officials said.

Two of four UN experts who flew in to assess the damage were turned back at the airport for unknown reasons, but the other two were allowed to enter, said John Holmes, the UN relief coordinator.

The Foreign Ministry statement did not give details, but said that the plane turned back had flown in from Qatar.

Burma's state media said Cyclone Nargis - which means daffodil in Urdu - killed at least 22,997 people and left 42,019 missing, mostly in the Irrawaddy delta.

Shari Villarosa, who heads the US Embassy in Rangoon, said the number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000 because of illnesses.

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