Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Tuesday, 13 May 2008 18:19 UK

EU top aid man granted Burma visa

Survivor of cyclone Nargis in south-west Burma
The EU says it will try to persuade Burma to open an aid corridor

EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel is heading for Burma to appeal for relief workers to have "free and unfettered" access to areas hit by the cyclone.

EU ministers backed away from a threat to impose aid, announcing instead that all help would be "entirely neutral, impartial and independent".

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said "all possible means" were being considered.

Mr Michel's spokesman said he had received a visa from the Burmese junta.

The commissioner told reporters that "the whole of the international community must show solidarity with the Burmese to make sure aid arrives promptly".

The EU already has an expert in Burma and Mr Michel said that while he was aware of the feelings of the international community, help had to be "humanitarian, not political".

Sweden: Two experts, blankets, tents and tarpaulins for 1,400 people
Austria: 600 plastic sheets, blankets, tarpaulins, emergency health kits for 10,000 people
Germany: water purification expertise
UK: supplies including plastic sheeting
Denmark and Slovakia also trying to help

The official death toll from Cyclone Nargis has now reached 34,273, according to Burmese state television, but observers fear the final count will be much higher. The United Nations says more than 1.5 million people are at risk, needing food, water and shelter.

France had earlier raised the prospect of helping the people of Burma without their government's permission.

"We have called for the 'responsibility to protect' to be applied in the case of Burma," said French minister for human rights Rama Yade, referring to a clause in the United Nations charter.

Javier Solana said the charter could be relevant in a humanitarian catastrophe in which "the leaders of the country do not allow the fast and well-organised arrival of aid".

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the House of Commons that all options were being considered but the best "by a long way" was for Burma to "stand up for its responsibilities".

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