UN prods Myanmar to accept aid, suspend custom tariffs
The United Nations expressed disappointment on Thursday at the mostly silent response from Myanmar's military junta to the global outpouring of generosity following the destruction and death toll inflicted by Cyclone Nargis, dpa reported.
Myanmar has not completely waived visa requirements to foreign aid workers ready to bring much needed relief goods to the more than 1 million people severely affected by the cyclone, said John Holmes, the UN undersecretary general for emergency humanitarian assistance.
The Myanmar government has also not clearly answered queries by the United Nations as to whether the relief goods would be exempted from customs charges. In addition, it was demanding that foreign relief workers be escoted.
"I am disappointed by the progress received since yesterday (Wednesday), a little of progress as I said, but nothing like as much as needed given the desperate situation," Holmes told reporters.
The UN echoed the frustration of willing contributors of aid, saying that Myanmar has been slow to welcome and accept international aid.
US Ambassador Zalway Khalilzad said his government was "outraged" by the slow pace of humanitarian delivery to those in need in Myanmar.
"We are shocked by the government's response," Khalilzad said. "It's a no-brainer."
Holmes said that on Thursday there were between 75 and 80 international staff on the ground in Myanmar and about 1,500 Myanmar nationals involved in the international relief aid.
He said a group of four international staff arrived in Yangon on Thursday, two with Asian passports were admitted while the other two, bearing UN passports known as laisser-passer, were not. The laisser- passer documents are usually accepted by other governments to allow UN employees to work in their countries.
Holmes described the military government in Myanmar as an "isolated and suspicious regime," that has so far failed to welcome outside help to the worsening humanitarian conditions created by the cyclone that hit a wide part of the country's delta, killing more than 23,000 people.
The UN, which cannot independently verify the number of casualties, has had to rely on Yangon's information. Yangon on Thursday downgraded the figures of missing people to 22,000 from more than 40,000 and the number of provinces affected by the cyclone from five to two.
Despite the negative aspects of the international relief operations, some planes did get in carrying 40 tons of high energy biscuits for the survivors of the cyclone. The UN said talks have been underway with Myanmar officials about whether the government or non-governmental organizations should be responsible for the distribution of the relief aid.