UN Envoy Takes Aid Plea to Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar — A senior UN envoy headed for Myanmar on Sunday to plead with its military junta to accept more international aid for cyclone survivors, amid mounting fears of starvation, especially among children.

John Holmes, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, was to arrive late Sunday and hoped to meet with junta leaders, said Amanda Pitt, a UN spokeswoman in Bangkok, Thailand.

The visit comes as world leaders expressed outrage at the handling of the disaster by the isolationist military regime, which insists it is managing relief operations perfectly well on its own despite evidence that some 2.5 million survivors are living in misery.

Junta leader Senior General Than Shwe has refused to take telephone calls from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and has not responded to two letters from him, UN spokesman Michele Montas said in New York. Holmes is to deliver a third letter.

He will try to "find out what's really going on the ground, to get a much better picture of how the response is going and … to see how much we can help them scale up this response," Pitt said.

About 78,000 people are confirmed dead and 56,000 missing in the May 2-3 cyclone, according to the government. Aid agencies, however, say the death toll alone could be 128,000.

They say some 2.5 million survivors are in desperate need of help — food, shelter from intermittent monsoon rains, medicines, clean drinking water and sanitation.

A UN report said Saturday that emergency relief from the international community had reached an estimated 500,000 people only.

"This is inhuman," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told BBC, accusing the military regime of caring more about its own survival than its people's welfare.

The junta says it has completed relief operations and will now turn to reconstruction. It has barred foreign aid experts, including the UN's international staff, from traveling to the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta.

UN and other major international aid agencies, such as World Vision, have been forced to depend on their limited local Myanmar staff to distribute aid in the delta and say a much greater effort is needed if more diseases and deaths are to be prevented.

Save the Children, a global aid agency, said Sunday that thousands of young children face starvation without quick food aid.

"We are extremely worried that many children in the affected areas are now suffering from severe acute malnourishment, the most serious level of hunger," said Jasmine Whitbread, who heads the agency's operation in Britain. "When people reach this stage, they can die in a matter of days."

The UN report said the ruling generals were even forbidding the import of communications equipment, hampering already difficult contact among relief agencies.

The government has ordered that all equipment used by foreign agencies must be purchased through Myanmar's Ministry of Posts and Communications — with a maximum of 10 telephones per agency — for $1,500 each.