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Page last updated at 15:53 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 16:53 UK

Burma grants all UN visa requests

Supplies for Cyclone survivors are unloaded from a helicopter in a village in the Irrawaddy delta - 5 May 2008
More than 2 million people in Burma still need aid, the UN estimates

Burma has approved all pending visas for UN staff, in a sign the regime intends to keep its promise to allow in all foreign aid workers.

More foreign relief workers from other groups are also being permitted to enter the Irrawaddy Delta, which took the brunt of last month's cyclone.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week urged Burma to allow humanitarian relief into the stricken country.

The UN estimates that more than two million people still need aid.

The move comes as Burma said it had officially adopted a new constitution, which it claims was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of Burmese people in a national referendum earlier this month.

But there were widespread reports of irregularities during the poll, and critics alleged that holding the vote so soon after the cyclone showed a lack of sensitivity towards the victims.

Promise kept

The junta's new stance on international aid is being interpreted as a sign that the authoritarian regime intends to keep its promise to grant access to aid workers from all countries.

Last week's offer by senior General Than Shwe to the UN secretary general to allow in "all foreign aid workers, regardless of nationality", appeared to be a breakthrough, according to the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

Chris Kaye of WFP on the situation in the Irrawaddy Delta.

The ruling junta had previously insisted that it could adequately provide for the victims of Cyclone Nargis on its own.

Our correspondent adds that this could be because of pride, or because of intense suspicion of any large-scale foreign presence on the part of junta.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, told the BBC in an interview on Wednesday that the cyclone crisis had helped achieve more active dialogue with the junta.

He said that the international relief operation could have positive ramifications for Burma's future democratic development.

Media blasts

Burmese state media, believed to closely reflect the views of top generals, has launched a torrent of criticism directed at international aid efforts.

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State media has long insisted that the junta was capable of handling the crisis on its own.

Reports on Thursday say that people in the delta could survive on "fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields and on protein-rich fish from the rivers".

The editorials say that although aid is welcome, the Burmese people do not need donated foreign chocolate bars to survive. One paper suggests the cyclone victims could eat frogs.

Even the victims themselves are not spared, and stand accused in these reports of tarnishing the image of the Burmese people by lining the roads scrambling for donations.

The papers blame the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, of using the cyclone to stir up unrest.

The cyclone devastated large swathes of land in key coastal areas of the Irrawaddy Delta. Farmers in that part of Burma provide two-thirds of the country's rice harvest.

The UN has said that efforts need to be made to help the region's farmers to work again and supply them with rice seed by the end of June, or Burma's rice harvest this year and next will fail.

At least 78,000 people have died as a result of the cyclone, and 56,000 people are still missing.




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