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U.S. Navy Ready to Help Burmese Cyclone Victims

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2008 – The U.S. Navy is ready to help in Burma, where a cyclone has caused a humanitarian disaster, but the orders won’t be given unless Burma’s ruling military leaders make an official request of the U.S. government, President Bush said today.

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Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell briefs the press on issues ranging from the supplemental budget proposals before Congress to the situation in cyclone-damaged Burma, May 6, 2008. Defense Department photo by Cherie Cullen

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more,” Bush said. “We’re prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who’ve lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country.”

Bush made the comments after signing a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal, in abstentia, to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader in Burma, also known as Myanmar. The United States has allocated $3.2 million to help with the disaster relief.

Lack of outreach from the Burmese ruling military committee, or junta, reflects increasingly strained relations between it and the United States due to the junta’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, such as Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since 2003, according to the U.S. State Department. The United States has responded with sanctions.

On May 2 and 3, a cyclone dubbed Nargis ripped through the tiny, impoverished country. At least 20,000 people are estimated dead, and many villages are “decimated,” a State Department report says.

The U.S. military has helped out in many natural disasters, including a massive tsunami that struck Indonesia in December 2005, and Pentagon officials said they are ready to help again – if requested.

“We have any number of resources and are prepared to move naval assets, but we operate on orders,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. “This is not new to the U.S. military. We have the capability to provide assistance and we have on numerous occasions. And we’re willing to do so again.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell also addressed the issue during a Pentagon news briefing today. “The military has vast resources and experience in dealing with this type of situation, unfortunately,” he said. “And we stand ready to provide that expertise and those resources to the Burmese people, hopefully, when their government sees fit to ask us to provide them.”

The Navy has three ships in the Gulf of Thailand, including the USS Essex, which has 23 helicopters, 1,800 Marines and five amphibious landing craft, Pentagon Morrell said. The USS Harper’s Ferry and the USS Juneau also are in the area, he said.

Bush made clear that the United States wants to help the Burmese people. “Our message to the military rulers is: Let the United States come to help you help the people,” Bush said. “Our hearts go out to the people of Burma. We want to help them deal with this terrible disaster. At the same time, of course, we want them to live in a free society.”

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Related Sites:
U.S. State Department country background note on Burma

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