05/23/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Green light for all international aid workers

UN secretary-general announces breakthrough after meeting junta strongman Than Shwe. Yangon airport will serve as hub for relief flights. People are waiting for pledges to turn into first concrete actions.

Naypydaw (AsiaNews) – Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis might be at a turning point after the country was devastated by cyclone Nargis. Indeed three weeks after it hit the Burmese coast people are still dying from hunger and disease, including those sheltering in survivor camps.  Today however the ruling junta’s strongman, General Than Shwe, accepted “to let in all aid workers”. Hitherto the military regime had refused to grant most foreign aid workers an entry visa. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made the announcement today in Myanmar’s new capital, Naypyidaw.

Many analysts are still unconvinced though, waiting to see whether the generals’ promises will hold true or be ignored, again. Until now the military regime had accepted foreign aid, including that from the United States, but had insisted on distributing it on its own.

For UN chief Ban General Than's decision to lift the ban was a breakthrough. And China’s attitude might have played a role in changing the general’s mind after Beijing accepted foreign assistance in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake.

Although General Than said that Yangon airport could be used as a distribution hub for foreign aid, it is not yet clear whether foreign aid workers will be able to use their entry visa to travel to the areas in the Irrawaddy Delta most affected by the cyclone. Until now the region had been off-limits to both foreigners and Burmese alike.

The official death toll from the cyclone now stands at 134,000 dead and missing. But without a large scale intervention the number of victims might go up even further, international NGOs warned.

Mr Ban’s mission was meant to get the junta to open its doors to foreign aid made available by the most important foreign NGOs and international agencies. Much of it was being stopped at the border or “stolen” by the military deployed in the affected areas.

International control over the how and where rescue material can be go in Burma thus remains a crucial matter that still needs to be settled.

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