UN envoy allowed into Irrawaddy delta

UN envoy allowed into Irrawaddy delta

Burma's military regime allowed a United Nations envoy into the devastated Irrawaddy delta for a brief tour today after barring almost all foreigners from the cyclone disaster zone for days.

John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, flew by helicopter into an area where hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims suffer from hunger, disease and lack of shelter.

A UN official said that after a few hours in the delta Mr Holmes would meet international aid agencies in Burma's largest city, Rangoon.

In what appeared to be a thaw in the junta's dealings with the United Nations, the government also gave permission for UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to travel to the delta after his scheduled arrival in the country on Wednesday, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said in New York.

Earlier, junta leader Senior General Than Shwe had refused to take telephone calls from Mr Ban and had not responded to two letters from him, Ms Montas said. Mr Holmes, who arrived in Rangoon yesterday, was to deliver a third letter about how the UN could assist the government's immediate and long-term relief effort.

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.

Burma's state-run media lashed out at critics of the regime's response to the disaster, detailing the junta's efforts. State television showed General Than Shwe inspecting supplies and comforting homeless victims in relatively clean and neat rows of blue tents.

The media said the general travelled from the capital, Naypyitaw, to relief camps in the Hlaing Thar Yar and Dagon suburbs of Rangoon.

Some survivors clasped their hands and bowed as he and a column of military leaders walked past. At least 78,000 people were killed in the May 2-3 storm and another 56,000 were missing.

The situation remained grim in the Irrawaddy delta south of Rangoon.

In the delta city of Laputta, hundreds of children covered their heads from the rain with empty aluminium plates as they lined up in front of a private donation centre. They were given rice, a spoonful of curry and a potato.

"Children only. Please. Children only," shouted a man who pushed back a crowd of adults. He explained they were feeding children and the elderly first because food supplies were limited and most adults could still fend for themselves.

Lord Malloch-Brown told the BBC that he believed the rulers of Burma may soon relent and let Western military ships join in the relief effort, especially if Asian go-betweens were involved.

Burma's leaders, angered by criticism of their handling of the crisis, stepped up their rhetoric yesterday even amid warnings by the global relief agency Save the Children that thousands of children face possible starvation.

The state-run New Light of Burma newspaper said in an editorial that the government, "mobilising the co-operation of the people, social organisations and departments", had rushed to carry out relief and rehabilitation tasks.

"Necessary measures are being taken constantly to attend to the basic needs of the people in the relief camps, while specialists are making field trips to the storm-struck areas to provide health care," it said.

The publication accused foreign media of spreading false information that has led international organisations to assume that the government had been rejecting international aid for storm victims.

State-run radio said the government had so far spent the equivalent of about €1.25m on relief work and has received millions worth of relief supplies from local and international donors.

Still, aid agencies have said about 2.5 million survivors are in desperate need of help - food, shelter from intermittent monsoon rains, medicines, clean drinking water and sanitation.

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