US defence chief accuses Burma junta of criminal neglect

MORE people will perish in Burma’s cyclone disaster zone unless the regime lifts restrictions on foreign aid, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned yesterday, accusing it of “criminal neglect”.

Nearly a month after the storm tore through swathes of Burma, about 60% of the 2.4 million survivors remain without foreign aid, despite some opening-up by the military rulers after an intense UN-led diplomatic push.

The junta blocked entry to overseas aid workers after Cyclone Nargis pummelled the impoverished nation on May 2, leaving 133,000 people dead or missing.

“Unless the regime changes its approach, its policy, more people will die,” said Mr Gates.

“I would describe it as criminal neglect.”

Mr Gates, who earlier said Burma’s initial delays could have cost tens of thousands of lives, added that the US would decide within days whether to recall four US Navy ships waiting to deliver aid.

He said it was “becoming pretty clear” the junta would not accept military help from the US, which has been a fierce critic of the regime.

The USS Essex and three other ships have been off the coast of Burma for more than two weeks with a dozen helicopters, landing craft and marines, but have been refused permission to use them to distribute relief.

Supplies are slowly trickling through to worst-hit areas, but the generals are wary of what is coming in.

“We would warmly welcome any assistance and aid provided with genuine goodwill from any country or organisation, provided there are no strings attached, or politicisation involved,” said Deputy Defence Minister Aye Myint.


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