VARIOUS: Merkel and Kouchner criticise Myanmar leaders for not opening its borders to aid workers in wake of...
- Title: VARIOUS: Merkel and Kouchner criticise Myanmar leaders for not opening its borders to aid workers in wake of cyclone devastation
- Date: 10th May 2008
- Summary: (BN11) BERLIN, GERMANY (MAY 9, 2008) (REUTERS) GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL'S CONVOY ARRIVING FOR CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS (CDU) PARTY EVENT, MERKEL GETTING OUT OF CAR (SOUNDBITE) (German) ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR SAYING: "We are all deeply shocked about the terrible pictures we are seeing out of Burma and therefore I ask the government to finally let international aid into the country and issue the relevant visas. I have absolutely no sympathy for the country's behaviour. Germany is ready to help, relief workers are ready and it's now up to the Burmese government to finally take action, otherwise, no one in the international community will understand."
- Reuters ID: LVA96K5689P2SOPCYGLF1SOCPH2R
- Duration: 00:00:43
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- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes
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- Story Text: World Food Programme cyclone is aid impounded in Myanmar, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner urge Myanmar's military leaders to allow foreign aid workers into the country to distribute food, water and medicines needed by an estimated 1.5 people affected by the disaster.
Planes loaded with food and equipment from several Asian countries and the World Food Programme (WPF) have landed Myanmar's Yangon province in the past few days, but the Myanmar government does not want to let foreign aid workers into the country to distribute aid.
The United Nations estimates that at least 1.5 million people out of a population of 53 million are "severely affected" by the crisis.
The U.N. food agency said on Friday (May 9) it will resume aid flights to cyclone-struck Myanmar despite the military government's seizure of deliveries at Yangon airport.
The agency initially said it was suspending flights after Myanmar officials, apparently determined to distribute supplies on their own, impounded two shipments intended to feed survivors of Cyclone Nargis.
"We are very concerned about 38 tonnes of our food that is in Yangon and has not been released for use by the World Food Programme,"
Paul Risley, WFP's Public Information officer said earlier.
The impounded shipments contained high-energy biscuits, enough to feed 95,000 people. They were meant to be loaded on trucks and sent to the inundated Irrawaddy delta where most of the victims need food, water and shelter.
Governments around the world have pressed Myanmar's ruling generals to open the country's borders to desperately-needed assistance, and on Friday Germany said it agreed with a proposal by France to use the U.N. Security Council.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Duesseldorf she had "absolutely no sympathy" for the behaviour of Myanmar's government and asked the military rulers to open the borders to aid organisations.
At Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, a team of Red Cross disaster relief experts prepared a water purification unit which the organisation hopes to take to Myanmar next Thursday, according to a written Red Cross statement.
Red Cross volunteer Konrad Kerper, a Berlin firefighter who has served in several disaster areas such as the tsunami in Sri Lanka, told Reuters Television "we are carrying six water purification units (and) with those, we can supply 15,000 people with fresh drinking water per day."
Kerper said the units could produce 15 litres of fresh drinking water per person per day which also allowed for washing laundry and basic hygiene needs.
Asked whether he expected any difficulties entering the country, Kerper said "we as the Red Cross practically have no (bureaucratic) hurdles to expect because we are going there at the invitation of the local Red Cross." he pointed out that "we normally don't encounter any problems entering a country."
German Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier repeated his calls to the Myanmar government to open its borders.
"The German Red Cross is standing ready with mobile hospital units, the THW (German government's Federal Agency for Technical Relief) with water purification units. All this could already be in Myanmar if visas had finally been issued," Steinmeier told reporters on the sidelines of a conference of aid organisations he headed at the foreign ministry.
"I am appealing once again to the government to open the borders and to show cooperation," Steinmeier said.
France is preparing to send a naval ship with 1,500 tonnes of aid to victims of the Myanmar cyclone, despite Yangon's insistence that it will not let foreign aid workers in, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Friday.
Kouchner said the aid was being acquired and would be loaded on to the French navy vessel, "Mistral" in the Indian port of Chennai ready for departure on Saturday night or Sunday morning.
The Mistral, a so-called command and force projection ship used in previous aid operations, is currently taking part in exercises in the region with the Indian and British navies.
"We've asked for authorisation in the same way that we've asked for visas for the aid workers to have access to the victims, but, for the time being, they are being given very sparingly. As for the two, now three planes that have arrived, they had to give the goods to the authorities, they were unable to distribute the aid themselves," Kouchner said after a meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy and representatives of French aid organisations in Paris and British singer Jane Birkin.
Birkin has championed the cause of Burma's pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
"For a long time we've supported Aung San Suu Kyi and her democratic party in Burma. So, I have already come once (to see President Sarkozy) and, faced with such a humanitarian disaster, it is natural that we are on on hand to be of any use whatsoever," Birkin said.
Antoine Peigney, International Relations and Operations director for the French Red Cross stressed that the main goal was to care for the cyclone survivors. He pointed out that the aid organisations' main problem was the access to Myanmar.
The official death toll in the wake of the cyclone remains at nearly 23,000, with 42,119 people missing. State media have not updated the number of casualties since Tuesday.
Cyclone Nargis storm is the most devastating one to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people were killed in neighbouring Bangladesh.
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