Thai premier to intervene in US aid drive for Myanmar

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Friday that he would fly to Yangon over the weekend to persuade the ruling junta to accept relief supplies for the cyclone-devastated country from the United States, reported the dpa.

"I have already contacted them," Samak told reporters, according to the Bangkok Post website. "I will see them on Sunday."

Samak has cultivated warm relations with Myanmar's military rulers since coming to power in January. After a state visit in March, Samak described the ruling generals as "good Buddhists," months after they launched a crackdown on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks that left at least 31 people dead and the world appalled.

US Ambassador to Thailand Eric John met with Samak Thursday in a bid to seek Thailand's help in airlifting 3.25 million dollars of emergency aid to Yangon as the United States has run into resistance from Myanmar's military.

Countries and aid agencies have met with red tape and delays from the regime as they seek to provide relief to the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which crashed into central Myanmar May 2 and 3, leaving about 23,000 people dead, 42,000 missing and more than a million homeless and in need of food, water and medicine.

Although Thailand, which on Tuesday became the first country to fly in emergency aid, proposed using a Thai military C-130 cargo plane to deliver US aid, the offer was rejected by Myanmar authorities.

Myanmar's ruling junta has also refused to grant visas to a US Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

"I'm optimistic that the Burmese authorities are going to make the right decision on the C-130 plane and the visas," John said at a press conference Thursday. "There is a need for speed."

Parading members of the DART team before the press, John said, "They're not going in to overthrow the government. They're not going in to spy. They have specific skills for immediately responding to disaster."

Even UN experts have run into delays in receiving visas to enter Myanmar to help with the massive relief programme underway inside the country.

The United States, one of the regime's most outspoken critics, said it was considering air drops of relief supplies, with or without the authorities' permission.

In Washington, Ky Luu, director of the US Agency for International Development's foreign disaster assistance office, did not rule out the possibility of air drops of supplies.

"Yes, we're looking at it, but the immediate needs are for open access for the current existing operational partners and for the regime in order to open up to provide for additional relief workers to get on the ground," Luu said.

Dissident groups in Myanmar, also known as Burma, appealed for help from abroad that circumvents the junta.

"To save thousands of lives before it's too late, we would like to urge the United Nations and foreign governments to intervene in Burma immediately to provide humanitarian and relief assistance directly to the people of Burma without waiting for the permission of the military junta," said a joint statement issued by the All Burma Monks' Alliance, the 88 Generation Students and All Burma Federation of Student Unions, three leading anti-government groups based in Myanmar.

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