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Burma Lets Aid Workers In, But Won’t Accept Help From U.S. Military

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2008 – The Burmese junta’s agreement to allow in international aid workers does not change the status of Defense Department assets ready to assist the victims of Cyclone Nargis, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that the Burmese junta would allow international aid workers into the devastated country. The death toll from the cyclone is estimated at 130,000, U.N. officials said. About 2.4 million Burmese were affected by the storm.

The United States military can continue to fly in C-130 airlifters with aid. Five aircraft landed at Rangoon International Airport today, bringing the total number of relief flights to 50. The flights have delivered 444 metric tons of supplies on 290 pallets.

Four U.S. Navy ships remain off Burma’s coast near the mouth of the Irrawaddy River, the most severely stricken area. The ships could provide massive quantities of relief supplies directly to the people most affected by the cyclone, but Burmese officials will not allow that.

“If nothing changes on the part of the Burmese government, we’re eventually going to have to make a decision” about how long the ships can remain, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. “Still, it’s very hard to turn your back on the suffering that we know is taking place right now, and so we’re going to continue to try to encourage [the Burmese leaders],” Whitman said.

Pentagon officials are encouraged by the junta’s decision to allow in the international aid workers. “Who knows, we might be successful in getting them to agree to further U.S. military aid,” Whitman said.

The ships will remain for the immediate future, but a decision on their status will come “in days or weeks, not months,” he said.

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