Myanmar lets foreign aid workers enter

BANGKOK, Thailand – Military authorities in Myanmar have agreed to let 160 aid workers from four Asian countries assist its struggling cyclone relief effort, aid officials said Wednesday, the government’s first acknowledgment that it needs foreign expertise.

Thailand’s public health ministry confirmed that on Friday it is sending 30 doctors, along with medical supplies, to work for two weeks in Myanmar, also known as Burma. U.N. officials said India, China and Bangladesh have also been asked to send experienced disaster relief teams.

The news came as five more U.S. military C-130 transport planes, carrying such desperately needed supplies as water, mosquito nets, plastic sheets, blankets and hygiene kits, flew into Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, in an acceleration of U.S. assistance following Tropical Cyclone Nargis.

The U.N. noted other “progress” as it tried to get aid to the worst-hit areas in the Irrawaddy River delta. Long-awaited visas for some U.N. disaster relief and logistics experts have come through.

“We are seeing more flights into the country, more supplies getting into the delta,” said Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “But the levels of aid getting in are not adequate. … They are not at a level and speed commensurate with what is needed.”

Myanmar’s military junta is highly wary of foreigners, especially Westerners. It is under intense pressure to open the doors to a full-scale international relief operation. The U.N has said that as many as 2.5 million people have been severely affected by Nargis.

In recent days, survivors have endured new rains. A storm was forming in the seas off Myanmar on Wednesday, but the U.N. weather agency discounted fears that it could evolve into a new cyclone, the Reuters news agency reported.

U.N. agencies continue to press Myanmar for clearance to use helicopters, more boats and trucks to ferry supplies piling up at the airport in Yangon, also known as Rangoon. Many remote areas in the Irrawaddy delta have yet to receive any relief.

“We’re working around the clock to get permission to use materials we believe would be helpful,” said Marcus Prior, a spokesman for the U.N. World Food Program.

Among the people trying to get aid into the cyclone zone are Myanmar living abroad. Thailand alone has an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers and political dissidents from the country.


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