The first US military aid flight landed in Myanmar on Monday, but relief supplies continued to just dribble into the reclusive state nine days after a devastating cyclone.
A C-130 military transport plane left Thailand’s Vietnam War-era U-Tapao airbase carrying 12,700kg of water, mosquito nets and blankets. US aid officials said they hope it will the the first of many US flights to the army-ruled former Burma.
Greeting the plane at Yangon airport was the junta’s Navy Commander-in-Chief Soe Thein, who promised to deliver the supplies “as soon as possible” to the cyclone-hit region, a US embassy official in Yangon said.
"This is Burma’s hour of need and the need is urgent," US Agency for International Development administrator Henrietta Fore said before boarding the plane with a Thai-US delegation for the short flight to the cyclone-hit city of Yangon.
Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the US Pacific Command, had said before taking off that he would urge the junta to allow a "long, continuous train of flights" that could carry up to 200,000 pounds of relief goods a day. "We’re limited only by the permission from the authorities in Burma," Keating said at the Thai air base.
‘Referendum was rigged’
Widespread and blatant rigging of the referendum on Burma’s proposed constitution emerged after the regime’s leadership demanded a ringing endorsement.
Voters who cast their ballot on Saturday despite the havoc wrought by the cyclone maintained they were intimidated by officials and pro-government thugs. Others told of arriving at polling stations as they were opening to discover ballot boxes stuffed with yes votes that officials explained away as "advance votes".
Critics have labelled the referendum a "sham" aimed at cementing the 46-year rule of Burma’s generals as the draft constitution reserves a quarter of the seats in parliament for the military.
The draft constitution’s importance to the Burmese military, still smarting from the international opprobrium provoked by the crackdown on last September’s pro-democracy demonstration, was illustrated by the fact it pressed ahead despite the cyclone.
"It’s absurd that they went ahead with it," said David Mathieson, a Burma specialist for Human Rights Watch.