05/21/2008, 00.00
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Caritas Thailand sending first aid shipment to Nargis victims

by Weena Kowitwanij
First shipment of donations collected from various dioceses was sent off yesterday. Thailand’s COERR and the Bishops’ Conference are coordinating operations in cooperation with Burma’s bishops. Aid distribution is made difficult by the many checkpoints in the cyclone-hit area.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – In response to an appeal launched by Burma’s bishops, the Thai Church has collected donations for the people affected by cyclone Nargis last 2 May. The first relief provisions were sent off yesterday. Operations are coordinated by the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees (COERR, Thailand’s Caritas), with aid shipped directly to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, which in turn should turn it over to the Myanmar Disaster Relief, an organisation set  up by the archbishop of Yangon, whose diocese is among the most affected.

In a letter appealing for donations the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand said that Myanmar’s regime is making matters worse by denying entry to Western rescue workers.

In addition to immediate aid like tents, money and food COERR is studying long term solutions. Its director, Phibul Visitnonthachai, said that parishes in Thailand will continue to receive local contributions as well as from other countries like Germany.

In Thailand the Church will also consult Burmese migrants and monks to better understand what is needed and ship it. At present COERR runs six centres for Burmese workers in Bangkok, each home to some 60 to 70 people.

So far Myanmar’s military junta has allowed 30 Thai doctors into the country to work as part of the Cyclone Nargis emergency relief programme.

Staff members from other medical facilities like the San Camillo Hospital in Nakhon Sawan (close to the border) are waiting for permits to work with the Myanmar government.

Thailand’s Caritas met Myanmar’s ambassador on 12 May; the latter provided indications as to how bring aid by air at least to the areas closest to the border.

COERR said that volunteers from the Burmese Church involved in relief operations on behalf of the affected population are facing great difficulties in reaching still isolated areas because of washed out bridges and roads but also because of the many checkpoints set up by the military. Between Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta region alone there are some 50 checkpoints.

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