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As victims wait, Myanmar rejects aid

Sun., May 18, 2008, midnight

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s junta kept a French navy ship laden with aid waiting outside its maritime border Saturday and showed off neatly laid out state relief camps to diplomats.

The stage-managed tour appeared aimed at countering global criticism of the junta’s failure to provide for survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which left at least 134,000 people dead or missing.

The junta flew 60 diplomats and U.N. officials in helicopters to three places in the Irrawaddy Delta where camps, aid and survivors were put on display. The diplomats were not swayed.

“It was a show,” Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, said by telephone after returning to Yangon.

The relief group Save the Children UK warned that thousands of children could die of starvation within two or three weeks unless more aid gets into the country quickly.

Meanwhile, a French navy ship that arrived Saturday off Myanmar’s shores loaded with food, medication and fresh water was given the now familiar red light, a response that France’s U.N. ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, called “nonsense.”

“We have small boats which could allow us to go through the delta to most of the regions where no one has accessed yet,” he said Friday. “We have small helicopters to drop food, and we have doctors.”

The USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, and its battle group have been waiting to join in the relief effort as well. U.S. Marine flights from their makeshift headquarters in Utapao, Thailand, continued Saturday – bringing the total to 500,000 pounds of aid delivered – but talks to allow helicopters to fly to the disaster zone were stalled.

Britain’s prime minister accused authorities in Myanmar of behaving inhumanely by preventing foreign aid from reaching victims, and said the country’s regime cares more about its own survival than the welfare of its people.

“This is inhuman,” Gordon Brown told the British Broadcasting Corp. He said a natural disaster “is being made into a man-made catastrophe by the negligence, the neglect and the inhuman treatment of the Burmese people by a regime that is failing to act and to allow the international community to do what it wants to do.”

Myanmar’s media, which has repeatedly broadcast footage of generals reassuring refugees calmly sitting in clean tents, announced Friday that the death toll from Cyclone Nargis had nearly doubled to 78,000 with about 56,000 missing.

According to the international Red Cross, the death toll alone is probably about 128,000, with many more deaths possible from disease and starvation unless help gets quickly to some 2.5 million survivors of the disaster.


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