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Enemies Burma & America Meet Over Cyclone Aid

Enemies Burma & America Meet Over Cyclone Aid


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. military commander of the Pacific, Adm. Timothy J. Keating, met Burmese military officers in Burma on Monday for the first time, to jointly examine maps of the cyclone- ravaged Irrawaddy delta, during a successful delivery of the first American airlift of emergency aid.

"They met some Burmese officials at the airport, including the deputy foreign minister, and they gathered together and looked at maps," a U.S. official said in an interview, asking to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

Adm. Keating and other U.S. military personnel huddled with Burmese military and government officials at Rangoon's international airport in sweltering, mid-day heat.

They discussed geographical features, logistics, and the suffering of survivors on the stricken Irrawaddy River delta, where officially 28,458 people perished, and 33,416 disappeared in Cyclone Nargis.

The cyclone brought murderous rain, wind and tidal swells ashore from the Bay of Bengal, onto the densely packed delta southwest of Rangoon on May 3.

While the military officers of the two enemy nations met, U.S. troops in camouflage uniforms unpacked 28,000 pounds of supplies, described as mosquito nets, blankets and water, from a gray bulbous C-130 U.S. military cargo flight.

Many of the waterproof boxes, stacked on the airport's runway, were draped with banners emblazoned: "US AID FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE." Burma took the free aid away in army trucks, while demanding no U.S. or foreign officials supervise its distribution.

As expected, the military regime also refused to give entry visas to any Americans on the flight, so they flew back to Thailand within hours of accomplishing their "Joint Task Force Caring Response" mission.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) planned to fly two more C-130s on Tuesday to Rangoon's international airport, with more emergency relief.

"The aftermath [of the cyclone] is setting the stage to be just as deadly as the cyclone itself," Pamela Sitko, World Vision International's emergency communications officer for Asia and the Pacific, said in an interview on Monday.

"The death toll is up to 28,000, so if we count the missing 40,000, that could soon be approaching up to 100,000 dead," she said.

"World Vision is very concerned with the implications that disease is going to have on the survivors," she said, referring to the Monrovia, California-based Christian relief organization's efforts to relieve the squalid living conditions most cyclone victims were suffering.

"About 30,000 people have migrated" from one cyclone-flattened area of the Irrawaddy delta, toward "camps," seeking food, medicine, shelter and safety.

"Children are showing up with fever, diarrhea and chest infections," she said, describing misery along the sea-level southern coast of Burma, a Southeast Asian nation also known as Myanmar.

More than one million survivors are at risk of illness or death from disease on the Irrawaddy delta, British-based Oxfam International said.

Some victims were collecting rain water to drink, while others portioned out what little food they could scrounge, in survivalist efforts to eke out an existence in the flooded landscape which was littered with uncollected, bloated, rotting corpses of people and animals.

Burma continued on Monday to reject most requests by foreign aid workers for entry visas, but has accepted relief goods from Thailand, India, China and other nations friendly to the military regime which has ruled the Texas-sized nation since a 1962 army coup.

U.S., U.N. and private agencies have insisted their international personnel need to escort their aid, to ensure it reaches survivors and is not stolen, delayed, or awarded to loyalists of the regime.

*************

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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