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Myanmar yes to foreign aid workers

Myanmar's junta leader has agreed to allow access to all foreign aid workers to help with the relief operation after Cyclone Nargis, says UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

world Updated: May 24, 2008 01:07 IST

Myanmar's junta leader on Friday agreed to allow access to all foreign aid workers to help with the relief operation after Cyclone Nargis, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

Ban made the announcement after more than two hours of talks with Senior General Than Shwe, the reclusive leader of the country's military regime whose refusal to let them in has set off international outrage.

The decision could ease a three-week standoff since the cyclone tore into Myanmar on May 2-3, leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing and around 2.5 million more in need of immediate aid.

International aid groups reacted cautiously, stressing that they would need full access to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta hit hardest in the disaster something the United Nations said was believed to be the agreement.

“He has agreed to allow all aid workers regardless of nationalities,” Ban told reporters in the remote new capital Naypyidaw following closed-door talks with Than Shwe, who heads one of the world's poorest and most isolated nations.

Asked if this was a breakthrough, Ban said: “Yes, I think so.’

There was no immediate confirmation from Myanmar. But a senior UN official who attended the meeting said Than Shwe had accepted access to the delta.

“The general said he saw no reason why that should not happen ... as long as they were genuine humanitarian workers and it was clear what they were going to be doing,” said the official.

The Myanmar regime had not been able to give this assurance earlier because they needed a “green light from the top,” the official said. “We've got to turn that into the reality now.”

International relief organisations have repeatedly insisted that more people will die unless they get immediate food, water, shelter and medical care.

While welcoming thousands of tonnes of donated supplies, the regime has been blocking visas for most foreign disaster management experts and insisted reports of survivors not getting enough aid were the work of "traitors".

It was not immediately clear if the regime would allow aid from US naval ships nearby, which it said before would be rejected.