Myanmar criticised for hampering aid; UN resumes relief efforts

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Friday, May 9, 2008

The United Nations (UN) is sharply criticising the government of Myanmar for impounding two airplane loads of food aid under the World Food Programme (WFP) and preventing aid workers from entering the country, calling the action "unprecedented."

Paul Risley, a spokesperson for WFP, said that "the food aid and equipment that we managed to get in has been confiscated." The WFP has no choice but to suspend aid, he said. The WFP did, however, announce later today that it would resume aid flights.

"Three flights were scheduled for Saturday but now we have no choice but to suspend food aid until the food in the warehouse is released for WFP to distribute it," Risley told the BBC.

"I emphatically urge the government to live up to the responsibility it has for its people and quickly allow international aid into the entire disaster area," said German chancellor Angela Merkel in an e-mail statement. "Very many people are now dependent on fast aid."

"Myanmar should be more responsive to international assistance but we cannot force Myanmar to do it, we have to respect her own decision," said Noppadon Pattma, the foreign minister of Thailand. "But the Myanmar people should be at the centre of considerations."

"I call once again upon Myanmar's authorities to lift all restrictions preventing the free dispatch of aid by the most efficient channels," said the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement. "The specialized agencies of the United Nations and NGOs must have immediate access to the victims."

Ky Luu, the director of the United States' Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance said, "We urge the regime of Burma [Myanmar] to open up access to all humanitarian actors," at a press conference yesterday.

"The delta region is known as the country's granary and the cyclone has hit before the harvest. If the harvest has been destroyed this will have a devastating impact on food security in Myanmar," said the aid group Action Against Hunger.

Friday afternoon, US National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe, announced that the US had been given permission to fly in a C-130 Hercules with aid.

"We hope that this is the beginning of a long line of assistance from the United States to Burma," Johndroe told the press. "One flight is much better than no flights," Johndroe said. "They're going to need our help for a long time."