Burma generals agree to UN aid for cyclone victims

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The Independent Online

The Burmese junta has yielded to international pressure by agreeing to a limited regional and UN-co-ordinated aid operation more than two weeks after Cyclone Nargis killed an estimated 100,000 people, but the generals will continue to deny unfettered Western access to the stricken zone.

Lord Malloch-Brown, the Foreign Office minister who returned yesterday from talks in Rangoon with Burmese ministers and aid agencies, defended the compromise plan to widen the aid effort, saying it was the "best option" available at this stage. It was hoped the junta would waive visa requirements for relief agencies based in Burma.

But with time running out for two million survivors in the Irrawaddy delta threatened with disease and starvation, he feared that the agreement with the Burmese generals, who are deeply suspicious of the outside world, would get bogged down in bureaucracy.

"The whole thing is too little, too slow," he acknowledged, but said that this "middle way" involving the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations (Asean) acting with China and India was the best way of ending the two-week stand-off.

The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, yesterday challenged the UN Security Council to take action by ordering aid to be delivered without the junta's permission. He said Security Council members which demurred would be guilty of "cowardice".

But Lord Malloch-Brown warned that any Western attempt to force aid on Burma risked being counterproductive. A flotilla of US, French and British ships is waiting off Burma to deliver emergency aid.

"Until today we have only had two deliveries of aid," said a villager in Thi Da Myine. "The government delivered some blankets, cups, bowls and soap, but there was only enough for one hundred people and there are five hundred in my village ... when they heard that Unicef was going to deliver some aid to us, they came and took it all away again. We are not expecting anything from the government ...if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself."