Red tape hampers relief aid to Myanmar

BANGKOK - Myanmar is handing out more visas to foreign aid workers to help in the cyclone aid effort, but red tape is still hampering access to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta area, a UN official said yesterday.

BANGKOK - Myanmar is handing out more visas to foreign aid workers to help in the cyclone aid effort, but red tape is still hampering access to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta area, a UN official said yesterday.

Nearly a week after junta supremo Than Shwe promised he would allow in "all" legitimate foreign aid workers, the world body said the military government had approved 45 remaining visa requests from its agencies.

But only seven UN expatriate staff had made it out of the former capital Yangon on Wednesday, Dan Baker, UN humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said.

"Following what's been agreed during the last week, I mean that's just not acceptable," Baker said of bureaucracy hampering their access to the delta, where up to 2,4 million people were left destitute by Cyclone Nargis on May 2.

Cooperation with some government departments was good, but "it's not clear that every ministry had gotten the message," Baker said.

He said it was not unreasonable to keep tabs on movements of international staff, "but that should not stop anybody from going in a timely way".

The regime has been criticised for dragging its feet on allowing a large-scale international relief effort in the wake of the disaster that left 134000 people dead or missing.

Some analysts say it may be out of fear that opening up the country would loosen the grip on power the army has held since a 1962 coup.

Other aid groups also faced problems getting out of Yangon. The International Federation of the Red Cross, which has about 30 foreign experts in Yangon, is still waiting for the greenlight to use them to establish aid hubs in the delta.

Red Cross spokesman John Sparrow said Myanmar Red Cross workers were doing a tremendous job, but they had little experience in handling such a complex major disaster.

Sparrow said of the foreign staff who have expertise in areas of health, water, sanitation and shelter: "The people we have who we can deploy have seen this before. They can quickly make decisions, advise and evaluate. They bring experience and know-how."

Baker, who visited the delta on a government-sponsored trip, said larger towns seemed to be getting a steady stream of supplies. - Reuters

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