Navy Ships Off Burmese Coast to Resume Operational Schedule
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 4, 2008 U.S. Navy ships that have been positioned off Burma’s coast since May 13 with urgently needed humanitarian assistance for the victims of Cyclone Nargis will resume their previously scheduled operations tomorrow.
Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, recommended to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the USS Essex group and the Marine Corps’ 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit should continue with their previously scheduled operational commitments, and Gates approved his recommendation, U.S. military officials said.
Burma’s ruling military junta refused to let the ships or its helicopters deliver relief supplies.
"Over the past three weeks, we have made at least 15 attempts to convince the Burmese government to allow our ships, helicopters, and landing craft to provide additional disaster relief for the people of Burma, but they have refused us each and every time,” Keating said. “It is time for the USS Essex group to move on to its next mission. However, we will leave several heavy-lift aircraft in place in Thailand so as to continue to support international-community efforts to deliver aid."
The Essex ships will now head to the coast of Thailand to backload their remaining helicopters and personnel on June 11. But Keating left the door open for the ships to return to Burma. "Should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering people, we are prepared to help," he said.
The United States government quickly responded after the cyclone hit Burma on May 2. Since then, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Defense Department -- working closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United Nations and other nongovernmental organizations -- have completed 106 airlifts carrying more than 2 million pounds of emergency relief supplies, benefiting at least 417,000 people.
Keating flew to Rangoon, Burma, on the first U.S. military relief flight May 12, along with Henrietta Fore, director of U.S. foreign assistance and USAID administrator. While there, Keating hand-delivered a letter to Burma's leaders offering additional humanitarian assistance with heavy-lift helicopters and landing craft capable of reaching areas inaccessible by road, as well as water-purification capability and medical assistance. He also extended an offer to the military junta to visit U.S. ships in international waters and to fly on U.S. military relief flights in an effort to help ease any concerns they might have regarding U.S. humanitarian assistance and intentions.
But to date, the forces and assets of Joint Task Force Caring Response, including the four-ship Essex group, 22 medium- and heavy-lift helicopters, four landing craft, and more than 5,000 U.S. military personnel remain idle as the military junta in Burma ignores diplomatic offers of expanded humanitarian assistance to its people.
"I am both saddened and frustrated to know that we have been in a position to help ease the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and help mitigate further loss of life, but have been unable to do so because of the unrelenting position of the Burma military junta," Keating said.
In a statement released this morning, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino lamented the Burmese government's unwillingness to accept the U.S. offer of aid and urged the ruling junta to reconsider.
"The generosity and compassion of the United States and the wider international community are impeded by the unwillingness of the Burmese authorities to provide full access to the cyclone-affected areas, despite their commitments to do so," she said. "Over a month after the cyclone hit the shores of the Burmese delta, tens of thousands have died and over a million victims have yet to receive any assistance. The Burmese regime must permit all international aid workers the access necessary to provide the urgently needed assistance. There is no more time to waste."
(From a Joint Task Force Caring Response news release.)