U.S. Gets Mixed Signals on Helping Myanmar The U.S. ambassador to Thailand said an American plane filled with relief supplies was ready to take off for Myanmar on Thursday, but the government there revoked permission. U.S. disaster relief specialists are also having trouble getting in, despite their unique and badly needed skills.
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U.S. Gets Mixed Signals on Helping Myanmar

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U.S. Gets Mixed Signals on Helping Myanmar

U.S. Gets Mixed Signals on Helping Myanmar

U.S. Gets Mixed Signals on Helping Myanmar

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The U.S. ambassador to Thailand said an American plane filled with relief supplies was ready to take off for Myanmar on Thursday, but the government there revoked permission. U.S. disaster relief specialists are also having trouble getting in, despite their unique and badly needed skills.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The international community is trying to help Myanmar recover from the catastrophic cyclone that struck last weekend, but the reclusive military government there continues to make it hard for disaster relief teams and emergency supplies to enter the country.

BLOCK: Some experts say the death toll could reach 100,000 if help does not arrive soon. And the United Nations estimates that one and a half million people have been seriously affected by the cyclone. In a moment, we'll talk with the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator.

NORRIS: Today, two planes carrying food and other supplies did land in Myanmar, also known as Burma, but more supplies are needed. The United States says it has fully-loaded standing by next door in Thailand.

And as NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao reports from Bangkok, U.S. and Thai officials thought they had permission to send a C-130 into Myanmar, but that turned out not to be the case.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: The U.S. ambassador to Thailand, Eric John, says an initial response from the government of Myanmar cleared the way for the U.S. to land there.

Ambassador ERIC JOHN (United States Ambassador to Thailand): They communicated that very clearly to the Thais, and the Thais communicated that to us, and we started work.

XAYKAOTHAO: But a few hours later something changed.

Ambassador JOHN: I don't think it was - I'm not sure it was reversed, but the decision was pulled off the table, and I think the most optimistic way of characterizing it is that the Burmese are still considering having that C-130 come in.

XAYKAOTHAO: He says he hopes that as the Burmese leadership surveys the massive scale of death and human suffering, they'll see that it's imperative that humanitarian assistance flows in. If and when that happens, the U.S. will provide at least $3 million in supplies, possibly accompanied by a disaster assistance response team headed by Olivier Carduner, mission director for USAID in Asia.

Myanmar's infrastructure was fragile even before the cyclone, he says. Now with heavy flooding in the country's Iriwati Delta, delivering supplies will be more difficult still, putting more lives at risk.

Mr. OLIVIER CARDUNER (USAID Asia): So what you have in the early days is all of a sudden no access to clean water. You can have people start getting serious diarrhea, which can be very debilitating and further weaken folks and make people more susceptible to disease. So it's important to have this rapid response.

XAYKAOTHAO: Andrew Kirkwood agrees. He's with the U.K.-based Save the Children already operating inside Myanmar. In a conference call from there, he told reporters there's not nearly enough aid reaching victims.

Mr. ANDREW KIRKWOOD (Save the Children): The problem for us is the logistics. It's getting truckloads of fuel to mount a huge logistics operation, which is required. We're confronting many, many problems.

XAYKAOTHAO: Still, his group, with 500 people on the ground, has managed to help some 50,000 people from Yangon to the low-lying flooded areas of the delta.

Mr. KIRKWOOD: We're reaching so many people so quickly because people are congregating in schools and monasteries. With no sanitation facilities, essentially, very little clean water and not much food, everybody is desperate to rebuild the small homes that they had and get back to them. This is going to take months, and in some cases, probably years.

XAYKAOTHAO: Humanitarian organizations have had trouble getting visas to send disaster relief experts to Myanmar. The U.N. World Food Program has had some success, but it was just two visas.

Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR News, Bangkok.

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U.S. Aid Supplies Blocked from Reaching Myanmar

U.S. Diplomat: Junta Leaders Block Aid

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At least two U.N. planes carrying much-needed humanitarian supplies landed in Myanmar on Thursday. But the country's military government is still blocking supplies from the United States from reaching victims of Cyclone Nargis.

There is still no approval for U.S. cargo planes filled with drinking water and other aid materials to land inside Myanmar, also known as Burma.

A U.S. disaster assistance response team also is grounded in Thailand, until Myanmar issues visas for the group. U.S. Ambassador Eric John said the United States is ready to help, with more than $3 million in aid.

A top U.S. aid official says the U.S. may consider air-dropping supplies for survivors even without permission from the Myanmar junta.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that's not a real possibility.

"One would hope that as the Burmese leadership surveys this massive scale of death and human suffering in Burma," Ambassador John said, "they'll see that it's imperative that humanitarian assistance flows in."

An international aid worker with British-based Save the Children in Myanmar said the group has been giving out rice, salt, cooking oil and cash to help victims of the deadly storm.

The U.S. military stepped up preparations Thursday for a humanitarian mission, readying some ships and Marines that are in the region for a multinational exercise.

Though the country's military-ruled government had not accepted the offer of help, the U.S. Air Force also moved more airplanes to a staging area in neighboring Thailand, Air Force spokeswoman Megan Orton said at the Pentagon.

As the humanitarian disaster in Myanmar unfolded this week, the Navy and Marine Corps happened to have ships and thousands of service members in the Gulf of Thailand for a multinational exercise on humanitarian missions — an exercise that started Thursday.

The group includes the USS Essex, the USS Juneau and the USS Harpers Ferry. The Essex is an amphibious assault ship with 23 helicopters aboard, including 19 capable of lifting cargo from ship to shore, as well as about 1,500 Marines.

The Essex and Juneau were expected to depart the gulf later Thursday when they finished off-loading the helicopters, then steam around the Malay Peninsula through the Strait of Malacca and into the Andaman Sea to be in position closer to Myanmar.

The Harpers Ferry and the destroyer USS Mustin were expected to start their transit toward Myanmar on Friday, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Officials said that although Myanmar's junta has not agreed to allow U.S. humanitarian assistance, it did ask for other U.S. help — satellite pictures of the cyclone-devastated areas.

"They asked our defense attache at the embassy in Rangoon for some imagery, and we provided it," said Marine Maj. Stuart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press