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Aid groups set to enter Myanmar

Allowing foreigners in is crucial to securing pledges from donors.

May 25, 2008|From the Associated Press

YANGON, MYANMAR — Aid agencies geared up Saturday to go into Myanmar's cyclone-hit Irrawaddy River delta after the country's military government pledged to open its doors to help ahead of an international donors meeting.

After weeks of refusing assistance, the ruling generals of Myanmar, also known as Burma, have told the United Nations they are willing to allow workers of all nationalities to help survivors of the May 2-3 storm that left about 78,000 people dead and an additional 56,000 missing.

The ability to assess the situation will be crucial in securing pledges from foreign governments, and the regime's about-face was seen as a concession to get more aid when 45 potential donor nations meet today in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, which is also known as Rangoon.

Senior Gen. Than Shwe has refused to relent on the landing of military ships -- U.S., French and British warships are waiting with aid off Myanmar's coast but have not been allowed to dock.

An estimate released Saturday by the U.N. said that although about 42% of the 2.4 million people affected by the storm had received some kind of emergency assistance, only 23% of the 2 million living in the hardest-hit areas had been reached.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Myanmar's ruling generals had told him that international humanitarian aid workers would be able "to freely reach the needy people," a pledge the military government has not publicly acknowledged.

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