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Page last updated at 17:22 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 18:22 UK

UN head tours cyclone-hit Burma

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at Shwedagon Pagoda
Mr Ban paid his respects to the cyclone victims at Shwedagon Pagoda

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has toured Burma's cyclone-hit Irrawaddy Delta, and called on the military government to accept more foreign aid.

Mr Ban, the only foreign leader to visit the area, said he was "very upset" by the devastation he had seen.

He told the government the disaster was beyond Burma's ability to handle on its own, a UN official at the talks said.

The country's ruling generals have blocked large-scale foreign assistance since Cyclone Nargis struck on 2 May.

About 78,000 people have died and another 56,000 are missing.

Tidy camp

Mr Ban was taken on a four-hour helicopter trip over Burma's flooded rice plain.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan, who is travelling with him, said the aircraft touched down at a tidy camp with few people in it and brand new tents - some of which were empty.

Cyclone victims in Dedaye, 130 km south-west of Rangoon

A UN official privately called it a "show camp", our correspondent says.

But Mr Ban denied his visit was being used by the junta to give a misleading picture of the crisis in Burma - also called Myanmar.

The issue of aid "should not be politicised", he said. "Our focus now is on saving lives."

Before embarking on the tour, he told reporters: "I praise the will, resilience and the courage of the people of Myanmar. I bring a message of hope."

'Drinking from puddles'

Earlier, in a meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein, Mr Ban stressed international aid experts should be rushed in, according to the UN official at the talks.

"The United Nations and all the international community stand ready to help to overcome the tragedy," Mr Ban is quoted as saying.

But Burmese officials told Mr Ban in private meetings that the relief phase was ending and reconstruction would now begin.

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Ban Ki-moon flew over southern Burma by helicopter to see the effects of the cyclone

Our correspondent says Mr Ban is concerned that aid is only reaching a quarter of those in need.

One foreign doctor told the BBC many were drinking water from puddles, while children and old people were suffering from dysentery, dengue fever and dehydration.

The generals have agreed that some UN helicopters can join the aid effort, but British, French and American naval vessels are still standing by off the Irrawaddy Delta, having been refused access to the area.

Frustration

The first of 10 helicopters to be sent by the UN's World Food Programme arrived in Burma on Thursday, and will be used to ferry supplies to remote areas.

map

The government has also agreed to allow in more foreign aid workers from its Asian neighbours.

On Friday, Mr Ban will fly to the nation's remote capital, Nay Pyi Daw, for talks with Burma's leader, Than Shwe. He has previously been unwilling to speak to the UN head.

Mr Ban will also attend a donor conference in Burma's commercial capital, Rangoon, on Sunday.

His visit follows that of the UN humanitarian co-ordinator John Holmes.

Mr Holmes has described his negotiations with the Burmese government as frustrating, and said a lot was riding on Mr Ban's meeting with the Burmese leadership.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda added his voice on Thursday to the chorus of calls for Burma's leaders to accept foreign help.

"I strongly hope that... Myanmar [Burma] will accept openly the international community's goodwill," he said.


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