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Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 16:17 UK

Aid for Burma 'must be monitored'

Cyclone victims in Burma
Supplies are scarce in many areas of southern Burma

Countries sending cyclone aid to Burma must monitor it closely to stop the military regime seizing supplies, a leading rights group has said.

Human Rights Watch said aid could not simply be left at Rangoon airport as it would not necessarily reach victims.

Burma's state media have raised the official death toll to 43,318 with 27,838 missing, AFP news agency said.

The regime is stopping most foreign aid workers already there from leaving Rangoon to go to affected areas.

More than 10 days after Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta, the BBC's Natalia Antelava, who reached the area, says it is still completely cut off from the outside world and there is little evidence of things getting better.

It is not just capacity to help that the Burmese government seems to lack, it is also the political will to save their own people

She says soldiers were blocking the roads but fishermen took her to affected areas by boat. One said he wanted the world to know what was happening.

In one village, 20 survivors were living in the only house still standing and had been eating rice and drinking rain water for 10 days.

Biscuits taken

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: "Without independent monitors on the ground, we can't be sure the aid is reaching those most at risk."

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Survivors cling to life in the Irrawaddy delta

He said there were reports some supplies had already been diverted to the military.

The group said it could confirm news agency reports that high-protein biscuits had been taken by the military and replaced with poorer, locally made substitutes.

The group said aid from the increased number of flights the regime had allowed in over the past few days was being handed to the military for distribution.

It said it "remained concerned about a lack of monitoring at Rangoon airport and throughout the transport process to ensure that all aid is delivered as intended".

EXTENT OF THE DEVASTATION
Detail from Nasa satellite images

In an apparent concession to international pressure, the generals say they will allow 160 foreign aid workers into the country, as well as an emergency relief team from the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean).

But it was unclear whether the workers - from countries including Thailand, China, India, Bangladesh - would be allowed out of Rangoon into the stricken delta region, where help is most urgently needed.

Aid agencies say far more boats and trucks are needed to get the supplies to the communities that need them most - and far more expert personnel.

Burma insisted again on Thursday it was capable of coping with the crisis.

The state media New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the people "will not rely too much on international assistance and will reconstruct the nation on a self-reliance basis".

The Red Cross has estimated the death toll at between 68,800 and 128,000.

'Insult'

The junta has also announced that 92.4% of voters had backed its proposed constitution in a national referendum held last weekend.

Children in Rangoon, Burma

Human Rights Watch said the result, which entrenches the power of the military, was an "insult to the people of Burma" as there was no way such a majority could have been gained fairly.

The decision to hold a ballot while tens of thousands of people were in dire need of assistance provoked a global outcry against the junta.

Meanwhile on Thursday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the UN would hold a summit of donors in Asia but gave no date.

"We will stop at nothing in trying to pressure the regime into doing what any regime should have done long ago," he said.


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