U.N. Chief Urges Myanmar to Allow Cyclone Aid U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon surveyed Myanmar's cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy River Delta on Thursday and urged the country's military leadership to allow foreign aid into the devastated area. "I'm very upset by what I've seen," Ban said afterward.
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U.N. Chief Urges Myanmar to Allow Cyclone Aid

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U.N. Chief Urges Myanmar to Allow Cyclone Aid

U.N. Chief Urges Myanmar to Allow Cyclone Aid

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The secretary-general of the United Nations flew into Myanmar today. He hopes to persuade the country's ruling military junta to allow a large-scale international aid effort for the victims of the disastrous cyclone there. Ban Ki-Moon says this is a critical moment for Myanmar.

Mr. BAN KI-MOON (U.N. Secretary-General): Aid in Myanmar should not be politicized. Our focus now is on saving lives.

MONTAGNE: At least 134,000 people are dead or missing, and that by the government's own account. Aid agencies are warning of a second wave of deaths if Myanmar's military rulers continue their tight control over relief efforts.

We're joined now by NPR's Michael Sullivan, who is in Bangkok. And Michael, how likely is it that Ban Ki-Moon will succeed?

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Well, I think he's got his work cut out for him. I mean, Myanmar's generals continue to keep a tight rein on aid deliveries and aid workers. As the secretary-general said yesterday, almost three weeks and the U.N. has only been able to reach about 25 percent of the people in need and most estimates put the number of those most in need at more at more than two million people.

So will the generals relent? I don't think they're going to open the door wide but I think they probably will make some small concessions, like the one announced yesterday allowing some helicopters from the WFP to help deliberate. They continue to dribble out visas for foreign aid workers, but only a few at a time. And those foreign workers are still limited to the area in and around the former capital, Yangon, and not allowed where they're needed in the delta. So he's got his work cut out for him, but of course he's got to try.

MONTAGNE: Okay. Some progress, and then of course the secretary-general is scheduled to meet Myanmar's senior general tomorrow.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, and I suppose that's progress a little bit since Than Shwe snubbed the secretary-general but not taking his phone calls and letters in the past few weeks. Whether this audience means Than Shwe is relenting or just trying to look as if he's relenting, it's still an opportunity, I guess, but for whom? I mean skeptics say it's just a charade, that Than Shwe has no intention of giving in. He's just using Ban for a photo op in much the same way the general used storm survivors as a photo op a few days ago when he finally got around to touring the delta more than two weeks in after the storm hit.

MONTAGNE: Now, Ban Ki-Moon is also set to attend a meeting of international donors this weekend in the former capital, Yangon. Tell us more about that.

SULLIVAN: Well, the government said last week that the relief program is pretty much taken care of and it's now time to think about reconstruction. Now, that's a bit premature, of course, considering that most of the survivors haven't been reached yet. But you know, recovering and reconstruction are big issues and everyone recognizes this. And I think this meeting will address those issues.

And of course coordinating humanitarian aid for the ongoing relief effort. I think this might be an opportunity for the international community to push Myanmar's government a little because they're going to need lots of money for all of this, especially the recovery part, money the government doesn't have. So maybe the international community can use the promise of money in the future as leverage in return for better humanitarian access now for the survivors.

MONTAGNE: But aid still is coming in, trickling in, down to the delta, some of it at least. Tell us a little bit about that.

SULLIVAN: Yes, it is going in by boat and by plane to Yangon and then being distributed out in the delta, but it could be going a lot quicker. And of course you've got U.S. and French ships off the coast; they could help get it there much more quickly. But you know, again, there's this deep mistrust on the part of the generals.

The government mouthpiece, (unintelligible) Myanmar, yesterday said U.S. helicopters and warships aren't welcome, that aid aboard them, quote, "comes with strings attached that are not acceptable to Myanmar's people." And here's another quote: "We can manage by ourselves." I think if you ask the people in the delta hardest hit by the storm, they might have a very different take, of course.

MONTAGNE: Michael, thanks.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michael Sullivan speaking to us this morning from Bangkok.

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