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Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 16:40 UK

'Window of opportunity' in Burma

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro ex-UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma
Mr Pinheiro says "terrible obstacle" to progress still exist

A 'window of opportunity' for political progress in Burma now exists, a former UN official has said.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, told the BBC that the cyclone crisis had helped achieve more active dialogue with the junta.

On Tuesday pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest was renewed.

Foreign donors condemned the decision but acknowledged that the donation of aid wouldn't be affected by it.

Mr Pinheiro pointed out that the international relief operation could have positive ramifications for Burma's future democratic development.

But he said this would depend on "the capacity to transform this humanitarian dialogue into a dialogue for transition".

He acknowledged that "terrible obstacles" to progress still existed inside the junta which he described as paranoid.

Local donors

A French ship carrying humanitarian supplies for Burma docked in Thailand on Wednesday.

The regime has prohibited the direct delivery of aid by foreign governments, so the United Nations will distribute the ship's supplies.

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But the Burmese government has said that local donors are free to take aid directly to cyclone victims.

State media said individual volunteers could go to any cyclone-hit areas and hand out supplies freely.

In recent weeks the authorities have been stopping private donors and taking their supplies for the army to distribute.

Some people inside Burma have described to the BBC News website their difficulties in distributing aid to the cyclone-affected areas.

On Burmese man, who wishes to remain anonymous, said his colleagues were prevented from distributing aid on 24 May.

"They were arrested on the way back to Rangoon...They needed to leave their trucks with them [the authorities]," he said.

Others, though, say have managed to send aid down south in the past week.

Meanwhile, international donors at a conference on Sunday pledged nearly $50m (£25m) to help relief work in Burma.

The amount pledged in aid was substantially less than the $11bn sought by the Burmese government, but some donors said money depended on foreign aid workers being allowed access to the Irrawaddy Delta disaster zone.

At least 78,000 people have died as a result of the cyclone that struck three weeks ago. More than 50,000 people are still missing.




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