Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 14:50 UK

Foreign envoys to see Burma delta

A man rests at a Buddhist monastery outside Rangoon, 15 May, 2008
Survivors are complaining that aid is simply not reaching those that need it

Foreign diplomats in Burma say the military government has promised to take them on a tour of areas of the Irrawaddy delta hit by Cyclone Nargis.

But the international community remains frustrated at the slow progress of aid after the disaster, which left more than 70,000 people dead or missing.

A BBC reporter in the delta saw little sign of official help and foreign aid workers have been barred.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon is still waiting to speak to Burma's military rulers.

A UN spokeswoman, Michelle Montas, told the BBC the phone had been ringing but no one was picking up.

While official death figures from Burma - also known as Myanmar - have risen to more than 43,000, with nearly 28,000 missing, the Red Cross and UN both say the toll could top 100,000.

Heavy rain has been lashing the delta, compounding the misery of survivors.

No aid in delta

A group of diplomats will be taken to the delta region on Saturday, Shari Villarosa, charge d'affaires at the US embassy told The Associated Press.

It is not clear how much access the diplomats will have to areas outside the official tour route.

The BBC's Natalia Antelava reports that the muddy banks of the Irrawaddy Delta are lined with white, swollen bodies and the air reeks of rotting flesh.

Bereaved survivors there lack fresh water and have barely enough rice to get by, our correspondent says.

The EU's top aid official, Louis Michel, failed to get permission to travel to the delta and was leaving Burma on Friday.


People wait for help in the worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta

He said he had been taken to "a rather perfect, organised camp" near Rangoon.

Many relief workers are awaiting visas and most of those who have been allowed into the country remain confined to Rangoon.

Mr Michel asked why disaster emergency experts were being refused visas.

"They didn't answer the question, and they did not give any reason," he said.

Water alert

Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein has announced that the "first phase of emergency relief" is over and that the focus is now on reconstruction.

Detail from Nasa satellite images

Large quantities of international aid are being delivered to the region but are awaiting permission for delivery to areas hardest-hit by the cyclone.

According to the Red Cross, aid agencies have been able to reach only around 20% to 30% of cyclone victims and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of diseases such as dysentery because of lack of clean water.

"If clean water isn't available, it's going to be the biggest killer in the post-disaster environment," Thomas Gurtner told The Associated Press.

"Food is urgent but you die in three days from acute diarrhoea. You die of starvation in a period of weeks.

"The immediate life-savers are water and shelter."

The Association of South East Asian Nations is due to hold a high-level meeting in the coming days that is expected to lay the framework for a broader aid donors conference.

Burma's military leadership has warned that those who hoard or sell aid on the black market will be prosecuted, amid international reports of misuse of some aid shipments.

The generals have also lauded what they said was a 92% approval of a new constitution in a referendum held last Saturday.


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