Diplomats get tour of cyclone zone

The Press Association

Diplomats get tour of cyclone zone

Burma’s military government tried to show the world that all was under control after the cyclone despite signs everywhere to the contrary.

Officials led diplomats on their first tour through the Irrawaddy delta where more than 130,000 people were killed or are missing.

The junta flew 60 diplomats and United Nations officials in helicopters to three places in the delta where camps, aid and survivors were put on display.

In one town, tired and hungry refugees stood in the baking sun beside flooded rice paddies, demolished monasteries and thatched huts. With the arrival of each vehicle carrying precious food and water, they jumped with excitement and surged ahead to get a share.

“The further you go, the worse the situation,” said an overwhelmed doctor in the town of Twante, just south west of Rangoon, Burma’s main city.

“Near Rangoon, people are getting a lot of help and it’s still bad. In the remote delta villages, we don’t even want to imagine.”

Authorities said they had almost finished carrying out relief work and were moving towards reconstruction and rebuilding. The underlying message was that they welcomed international assistance, but there was no need for foreign personnel.

The diplomats were not all swayed. “It was a show,” Shari Villarosa, the top US diplomat in Burma, said after returning to Rangoon. “That’s what they wanted us to see.”

State-run radio denied that aid was being refused, saying: “The people of Burma warmly welcome foreign assistance for the victims of Cyclone Nargis.” It said the government has so far spent £1 million on relief work and had received millions worth of relief supplies from local and international donors.

But a French navy ship that arrived off Burma’s shores on Saturday loaded with food, medication and fresh water was stopped from distributing aid, a response which France’s UN ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, called “nonsense”.

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