05/26/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Archbishop of Yangon: Emergency continues, let in foreign aid

Archbishop Bo comments on the junta's promises to open up to foreign aid workers, and gives an update of the status of operations undertaken by the Church. But the junta is imposing conditions: "permission only for those who will work for reconstruction, and without political purposes". At the conference in Yangon, donor countries pledge 100 million dollars, and ask for transparency.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - "The post-Nargis emergency phase in Myanmar is not over yet, most of the survivors are fighting for their lives on a daily basis, but we hope that the government's promises to open to all international aid workers will become a reality".  So comments Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, one of the areas hardest hit by the disaster.  In a letter released yesterday by the diocese, the archbishop comments on the latest declarations of the junta and gives an update of the status of aid operations organised by the Burmese Church: "We have reached about 25,000 people, and we expect to help another 40,000, but there are hundreds of thousands still in need of basic assistance".

For the military junta, instead, all that is necessary at this point is "reconstruction and rehabilitation", and only humanitarian agencies with these objectives will be authorised to intervene.  This was explained by the Burmese prime minister, Thein Sein, at the conference of donor countries held yesterday in Yangon.  So some details are emerging on the conditions placed by the regime on the unhindered access for foreign aid workers promised to the UN last week.  This promise seems to be linked precisely to yesterday's meeting, at which the generals restated their high expectations for funding. In fact, by demonstrating "flexibility" they hoped to obtain as much money as possible, in spite of the international community's distrust of the second most corrupt nation in the world.  Of the 11 billion dollars requested by the government, 52 nations and 25 organizations have provided about 100 million dollars, demanding transparency and clarity on the part of the military leaders, who typically pocket the donations destined for the population.  Western countries say that most of the money will be delivered only if the Burmese government will grant access to the region of the Irrawaddy delta, until now off limits to the media and aid workers.

Three days after declarations of greater "willingness" by the head of the junta, Than Shwe, the situation has not changed much, while 2.4 million people are in need of all of the basic necessities.  And Thailand, one of the junta's most firm allies, is denouncing the lack of action: "[The generals] have opened more, at least granting permission for foreign media and some international aid workers to see the devastated areas, but it is not unhindered access", says Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama.  Entry visas for all other foreigners will be evaluated on a case by case basis.  In addition to denying or delaying permission for NGO officials, a series of obstacles is still preventing foreigners and Burmese from leaving the former capital of Yangon to go to the delta.

"Amidst the stories of despair", adds Archbishop Bo, "is also hope", while "solidarity received by the Church in Myanmar shows further evidence of the generosity of humankind".

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