Outrage at Burma junta's emergency aid obstruction

By staff writers
May 9, 2008

Development agencies and United Nations officials are exasperated at the obstructiveness of the Burmese junta toward an international aid effort aimed at bringing desperately needed supplies to victims of the recent cyclone.

This evening, the BBC reported that the military dictatorship in Burma has blocked aid workers and some shipments from entering the country, while others lie unused on the airport tarmac because the military do not have the capacity to distribute them

Yet tens of thousands are in urgent need, and Save the Children say that after six days inadequate response many will die.

The UN today suspended aid flights to Burma after the impounding of food supplies and equipment for survivors of cyclone Nargis.

A spokesperson for the UN's World Food Programme told journalists and news agencies that flights could not resume until the situation was resolved.

The impounded food aid - including 38 tonnes of high-energy biscuits - was enough to feed 95,000 people, officials claimed.

"We're going to have to shut down our very small airlift operation until we get guarantees from the authorities," Tony Banbury, a World Food Programme regional director, said.

He added: "It should be on trucks headed to the victims. You've seen the conditions they are in. That food is now sitting on tarmac, doing no good."

Burma's military government denied the goods had been seized and called the UN's complaint "baseless".

Ye Htut, a spokesman, said the junta took control of the aid to distribute it "without delay by its own labour to the affected areas".

Burmese foreign ministry officials said earlier today the country would accept supplies from overseas but would control distribution themselves and not allow in foreign workers.

France said it would send a naval ship packed with 1,500 tonnes of aid if it gets approval from authorities. The foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said the aid would be ready for departure over the weekend.

Global church aid efforts are being co-ordinated by the ecumenical Action of Churches Together network.

Keywords:military | junta | cyclone | burma | aid
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