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Opinion divided over air drops

The debate over whether to air-drop humanitarian aid into Burma without the junta's consent has intensified, with the British Government and the opposition expressing sharply different views over the most effective way of overcoming the junta's resistance to the international aid effort.

Gordon Brown has called for "unfettered access to humanitarian agencies". But British officials, speaking ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on the crisis, said the UK Government opposed aid drops without the military's consent. David Cameron, the Tory leader, told the BBC that "if the situation hasn't radically improved by [today] then we need to consider the further steps of direct aid being dropped to help people".

Oxfam, the British charity, said air drops were "hugely expensive, very limited in what they can deliver and are far from being smart aid bombs". Jane Cocking, Oxfam's humanitarian director, said air drops of food and mosquito nets could not target the most vulnerable, while clean water systems and safe sanitation could not be dropped from the sky at all.

The UN Security Council is also divided on a French call for aid to be forcibly delivered to Burma by invoking the principle of "responsibility to protect". The British ambassador to the UN, John Sawers, said that the concept was adopted relating to "acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity" and was therefore inappropriate for natural disasters.

Ms Cocking added: "The biggest risk is that aid air drops will be a distraction from what is really needed – a highly effective aid operation on the ground."