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Calls rise to defy regime, fly in aid

Some urge the outside world to take food, water and shelter to cyclone victims, even without permission of Myanmar's rulers.

May 11, 2008|Bruce Wallace | Times Staff Writer

BANGKOK, THAILAND — The Myanmar government's refusal to greenlight an international relief mission spawned louder cries Saturday for the outside world to fly in food, water and shelter to cyclone victims, with or without the military regime's permission.

As the crisis began its second week with only a feeble rescue operation in place, frustrated voices, including France's foreign minister and a broad collection of groups representing exiles from Myanmar, also known as Burma, urged a humanitarian operation in defiance of the government's insistence that it alone control any assistance.

Government critics contend that the ruling generals have failed in their responsibilities to the people, opening the way for the United Nations to invoke its "responsibility to protect" provisions adopted in 2005 that give the Security Council power to ignore national sovereignty for humanitarian reasons.

"They should just start landing the helicopters," said Soe Aung of the National Council of the Union of Burma, a pro-democracy group based in Thailand. "People are being exposed to disease and hunger and wondering why they have been forsaken by the rest of the world. It's time to move in."

Officials have said Tropical Cyclone Nargis killed more than 23,000 people and left many homeless and hungry.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview published Saturday in a Paris newspaper that France would continue to seek a Security Council resolution to deliver aid over the objections of the Myanmar government.

But United Nations officials awaiting permission to enter the country said privately that it is politically and practically almost impossible to launch such an intervention.

Representatives of aid organizations said most governments have no appetite for a confrontation with the generals. They said China's support for the regime prevents the Security Council consensus needed to adopt French calls for aid to be forced in.

Several European Union and U.N. officials have dismissed the idea, saying confrontational tactics encourage the generals to dig their heels in deeper. Others say the idea is flawed for practical reasons.

"Dropping pallets of aid from the sky without teams on the ground is one of the most dangerous things you can do," said an international aid official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy. "It's like dropping cars from the sky. We just have to find a way to convince the generals to cooperate."

Some U.N. officials said Saturday that they detected a crack in the insistence that foreign aid was welcome, but foreign aid workers were not.

"We're getting some positive and encouraging signs from the government," said Marcus Prior, a spokesman for the World Food Program, which delivered three planeloads of supplies Saturday.

Any relenting by the regime can't come soon enough for those fighting to survive, Burmese exiles said.

"Every hour we wait increases the number of deaths," said Charm Tong, a Burmese activist living in Thailand.

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bruce.wallace@latimes.com

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