'Myanmar agrees to allow all aid workers'
Myanmar has agreed to allow "all aid workers" to stage a relief effort for cyclone survivors, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said after meeting junta leader Than Shwe.world Updated: May 23, 2008 15:23 IST
Myanmar's military junta - chastised for the past three weeks for hindering a disaster relief programme for cyclone victims in their own country - on Friday agreed to allow "all" aid workers into the reclusive country.
The country's military supremo Senior General Than Shwe made the major concession during talks with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday morning, said a UN pool report.
"He has agreed to allow in all the aid workers," Ban said after the meeting with Than Shwe, who heads the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta styles itself.
In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which swept over Myanmar's central coast May 2-3, leaving 133,000 dead or missing, the regime has been accepting humanitarian aid but has been slow to grant visas to foreign experts seeking to enter the country.
And the visas that have been passed out have been on a selective basis.
Asked if Than Shwe had indeed agreed to grant visas to "all" aid workers, Ban replied: "I think so, he has agreed to allow all aid workers regardless of nationalities," adding, "He has taken quite a flexible position on this matter."
Than Shwe has also agreed to allow Yangon, the former capital, to be used a logistical hub for aid distribution.
Ban arrived in Yangon on Thursday, where he held talks with Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein and visited the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta.
The UN estimates that the storm left another 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, water, shelter and medicine. Almost three weeks after the storm, international aid has reached only 25 percent of the affected people, a poor performance that is largely blamed on Myanmar's rulers.
Ban, who on Thursday was flown by military helicopter to the Kyondah relief camp, about 75 km south of Yangon in the Irrawaddy delta, has refrained from publicly criticising the regime's performance, while stressing his "solidarity" with the Myanmar people.
"The UN is here to help you. The whole world is trying to help Myanmar," he told one woman at Kyondah who had lost her home and family to the cyclone.
Myanmar's regime maintains that the "rescue and relief" phase of the emergency assistance for the cyclone victims is over, an outlook that clashes with that of the international aid community.
It is hoped that the regime will backtrack on its stance before a pledging conference is held on Sunday, co-hosted by the UN and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), of which Myanmar is a member.
The disaster has put the spotlight on Myanmar's rulers, a military dictatorship that has lorded over its people for the past 46 years, earning the country pariah status among Western democracies and proving an embarrassment for even its closest Asian allies.
The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta styles itself, has drawn international criticism for failing to facilitate international aid for its own people in the aftermath of the cyclone, and for refusing to hand out more visas to foreign aid workers and allow those inside the country to work in the most affected areas such as the Irrawaddy Delta.
Ban will return to Bangkok Friday night in order to hold talks Saturday with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and other Thai ministers.
Thailand, Myanmar's eastern neighbour, has turned into the main logistical and organisational hub for the current international relief effort.
The UN secretary general will return to Yangon Sunday to preside over a UN-Asean pledging conference for Myanmar, for the cyclone victims' short-term and long-term needs.
Last Monday, Asean agreed to act as a liaison between the international aid community and Myanmar's junta. The grouping includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Myanmar estimates it will take $11 billion to rehabilitate areas hit by the cyclone.