American Admiral Takes Plea To Burma

Burma's military junta has agreed to accept more U.S. help, opening the door for what could be a massive cyclone relief operation. However, the United Nations warned that less than a quarter of the victims' needs are being met. Video by AP
By Amy Kazmin and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

BANGKOK, May 12 -- The head of the U.S. Pacific Command flew into Burma on Monday aboard the first U.S. military aid flight, to press for a full-scale international relief operation for victims of Cyclone Nargis. Facing mounting international pressure to open their country's borders, Burmese officials promised to consider the request.

In New York, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed "immense frustration" with the pace of the relief effort, slowed by Burma's secretive military government. After trying for days to get top general Than Shwe on the telephone, Ban said, he sent a letter urging him to facilitate a massive aid operation.

Adm. Timothy J. Keating flew in a U.S. Air Force C-130 from an air base in Thailand that is turning into a staging area for Burma relief. Accompanying him was Henrietta H. Fore, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. At the airport in Rangoon, Burma's largest city, they conferred with Burma's top naval officer in the highest-level military contact between the two countries in decades.

Keating and Fore did not go beyond the airport before flying back to Thailand. Fore said she believed that "our discussions were a good first step" toward broader U.S. help.

Hours later, a second U.S. flight left Thailand with relief supplies. Lt. Col. Douglas Powell said the Marine C-130 cargo plane left for Yangon Tuesday carrying 19,900 pounds of water, blankets and mosquito nets. He said a third flight carrying more supplies would leave later in the day.

The United States has offered to deploy as many as 4,000 Marines, six C-130 planes and a large number of heavy-lift helicopters in what would be its largest disaster relief effort since the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. It will also have three naval ships, with helicopters on board, positioned off Burma's southwest coast within 48 hours.

"We have a broad array of personnel and equipment, and we are ready to respond as soon as the Burmese give us permission," Keating said.

The cargo plane on which Keating and Fore traveled delivered bottled water, blankets and mosquito nets. U.S. and Burmese military personnel jointly unloaded the supplies, which the Burmese promised to send quickly to the disaster zone by helicopter.

In another sign of gradual cooperation, U.N. officials said that the Burmese had now approved visas for 34 aid workers.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, moved Monday to allow individuals to send unlimited amounts of money to people in Burma.

The generals who rule the country, which they officially renamed Myanmar, are highly wary of Western governments, especially the United States. President Bush has called Burma "an outpost of tyranny"; the generals accuse Washington of trying to overthrow them by supporting Burmese dissidents, both in and outside the country.

Military authorities are sealing off the disaster zone to foreigners, turning them back at checkpoints on the roads. Transport remains in short supply; the Burmese military is using only seven helicopters to ferry supplies from the airport into the affected areas.

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