Aid Reaches Reluctant Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar -- The first U.S. military aid flight to Myanmar landed in Yangon on Monday but emergency supplies remained at a trickle for 1.5 million people facing hunger and disease in the cyclone-ravaged Irrawaddy delta.

The C-130 military transport plane left Thailand's U-Tapao air base carrying water, mosquito nets and blankets to the military-ruled country, branded an "outpost of tyranny" by Washington.

The Myanmar junta's navy commander-in-chief, Soe Thein, greeted the supplies, which were accompanied by Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Henrietta Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Later, Fore told a news conference in Bangkok she had won permission to fly in two more planes on Tuesday but there was no breakthrough on the important issue of letting foreign helicopters and boats ferry supplies into the delta.

"It's a good first step," she said, adding that Washington was increasing its humanitarian aid to $16 million, from just $3.5 million. "We will take it one day at a time." Delivery of the aid shipment was broadcast on Myanmar state television.

The White House confirmed that two more U.S. planes would be sent to Myanmar and said a further $13 million in aid would be offered to UN agencies.

Keating said the U.S. navy would have three ships in international waters off the coast of Myanmar in 36 to 48 hours. It also had 4,000 marines and a "large number" of cargo-carrying helicopters on stand-by in Thailand.

"We're limited only by the permission from the authorities in Burma," he said at the Thai air base.

While a stream of aid flights had landed in Yangon, only a fraction of the relief needed was reaching the delta as a result of flooding and because the junta was keeping foreign aid and logistics experts out of the country or stranded in Yangon.

"We think we need to be moving 375 tons of food a day down into the affected areas. We are doing less than 20 percent of that," World Food Program spokesman Marcus Prior said in the Thai capital.

Myanmar's reclusive military government was accepting aid from the outside world, including the United Nations, but refused to admit foreign experts waiting in Bangkok for visas from the Myanmar embassy.

"They say they will call, but it's always wait, wait, wait," Pierre Fouillant of French disaster agency Comite de Secours Internationaux said after being turned away.

"I've never seen delays like this, never," said Fouillant. "It's a crime against humanity. It should be against the law. It's like they are taking a gun and shooting their own people."

The UN said its top representative in Myanmar had flown to Naypyidaw, the generals' new capital, on Monday to hand over a list of 60 "critical" UN and relief agency staff.

Despite this, UN officials said none of its staff in Bangkok had received visas on Monday. They said foreign staff inside the country were prevented from leaving Yangon.

"There are limits, if not bans, on staff going to the delta," Terje Skavdal of the UN's humanitarian arm told reporters.

Uncertainty about the scale of the disaster persisted more than a week after the cyclone.

In its latest assessment, the UN humanitarian agency said between 1.2 million and 1.9 million people were struggling to survive and the number of dead could range from 60,000 to 102,000.

Myanmar state television raised its official toll to 31,938 dead and 29,770 missing on Monday. Most of the casualties were killed by the 12-meter wall of water that hit the delta, with the cyclone's 190 kilometer-per-hour winds.

People throughout the delta were crammed into monasteries, schools and other buildings. Displaced people flooded into towns that were barely able to cope with the influx.

Lacking food, water and sanitation, they faced diseases such as cholera. Heavy rain was forecast for the delta this week, which could further hamper the relief effort.

People from Yangon were loading food and water into their vehicles and taking it to villages outside the city in the absence of any organized aid effort.

The cyclone raged through an area that is home to nearly half of the country's 53 million people and about 5,000 square kilometers of land remained under water.

The UN has launched an appeal for $187 million to support the survivors for at least three months. The WFP is seeking $56 million to buy food for 630,000 people for six months.

France was sending a warship carrying 1,500 tons of rice which was expected near Myanmar later this week. Paris says it wants to distribute the food directly itself, but will not do so without authorization.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Monday Britain was sending a navy ship to the region to help humanitarian operations.