Myanmar calls for assistance and aid with "no strings attached"

Myanmar's Deputy Defence Minister Aye Myint said Sunday that assistance and aid provided with genuine goodwill from any country or organization would be welcomed providing there "are no strings attached" or politicization, dpa reported.

In contrast to criticism from many of the 27 defence ministers and officials at a forum in Singapore over Myanmar's three-week holdup of their donations and slow pace of getting supplies to the survivors of the May 3 cyclone, Aye Myint said assistance is being provided.

"The relief supplies from abroad via aircrafts were sent directly and continuously to the relief camps by motor vehicles, helicopters and vessels," he told the 300 participants on the last day of the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defence forum.

Donations will be accepted by land, sea or air, Aye Myint said.

"For those groups who are interested in rehabilitation and reconstruction, we are ready to accept them in accordance with our priority and the extent of work that needs to be done," he said.

He assured the conference that the military government is fully cooperating with UN agencies and international non-government organizations (NGOs).

"Arrangements could be made for the donors and the international community to go to the cyclone-hit areas to observe the situation there," Aye Myint offered.

He also invited "experts and well-wishers" to extend their help in formulating preventive measure to minimize casualties and damages in the event of another severe cyclone in the future."

Aye Myint said 77,738 people were confirmed dead; 55,917 were still missing and 19,359 were injured. He estimated public and private property loss at 10.6 billion dollars.

Emphasis is currently on the second phase of relief, he said, involving resettlement, rebuilding of the destroyed houses and building new houses.

The first phase was emergency search and rescue, he said, while the third will be rehabilitation of businesses and productive forces.

Four weeks after the disaster, the United Nations says less than half of the 2.4 million people affected have received any form of help from the government, international or local aid groups.

"When the needs of a population exceed the national capacity to respond, governments should take advantage of the help offered by international actors," said Dr Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"When they are reluctant or tardy in accepting assistance, on the grounds that they are preserving their sovereignty and want no interference in their domestic affairs, the results may well be many preventable deaths among their people," he told the conference.

"As far as France is concerned, the commercial ship we sent with food and water stayed offshore for eight days and ended up in Thailand," said French Defence Minister Herve Morin. "NGOs are conveying the goods."

"This is happening rather late," he told a news conference.

Morin said he had not talked with the conference participants from Myanmar. "A dialogue with Myanmar has a tendency to chill goodwill," he said.

A team from the Association of South-East Asian Nations is scheduled to spend two weeks in Myanmar assessing how best to help the survivors.

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