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Page last updated at 10:57 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 11:57 UK

Burma 'to take more foreign aid'

Burmese cyclone survivors on boat, Irrawaddy Delta
Burma says nearly 78,000 people died in the cyclone

Cyclone-hit Burma has agreed to accept increased levels of foreign aid, but only if it is channelled through neighbouring countries.

The announcement was made at an Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) emergency meeting in Singapore.

Asean said medical teams from its member countries would be allowed in to Burma immediately.

Until now, Burma's secretive military rulers have allowed very few foreign aid workers into the country.

The UN believes 2.4 million people are currently suffering as a result of Cyclone Nargis, which hit on 2 May.

Asean foreign ministers held the emergency meeting in Singapore to try to break the impasse over the military government's refusal to allow foreign disaster experts into the Irrawaddy Delta, the area worst hit by the cyclone.

Map of Asean countries

Following the meeting, Asean said it would co-ordinate the international relief effort, and would send medical workers and disaster assessment teams from member countries to Burma immediately.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, who is at the meeting, says Burma's ruling generals are still fearful of allowing uncontrolled access to Western relief workers.

He says they will only be given visas and access to the Irrawaddy Delta on a case-by-case basis, and foreign journalists will still be banned.

'Tremendous frustration'

Before the meeting, the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Dr Rais Yatim, told the BBC there was a tremendous sense of frustration about aid not getting in to Burma, but he added that little could be done without the co-operation of the authorities there.

Members of Asean talking before meeting
Asean members held an emergency meeting to persuade Burma to accept foreign help

In other developments:

  • A senior UN envoy, John Holmes, is in Burma, touring the Irrawaddy Delta region
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit on Wednesday
  • An international donor conference will be held in Rangoon on Sunday

Analysts say the forthcoming visit by Mr Ban appears to demonstrate a thaw in the Burmese government's dealings with the UN - junta leader General Than Shwe had earlier refused to take telephone calls from the UN chief.

The UN says more than two million people are suffering as a result of the storm.

About 150,000 are living in temporary settlements, and are still short of food and water.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Bangkok says there has been some progress though - about 250,000 people have now been given food rations that should last them a fortnight.

But he adds that many hospitals and clinics have lost all their equipment.

Map of Burma




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