Page last updated at 19:27 GMT, Saturday, 17 May 2008 20:27 UK

Burma 'guilty of inhuman action'

A destroyed house in Burma
Aid agencies are warning supplies are not getting to the areas worst hit

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has condemned Burma's military government for not allowing international aid to reach the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Mr Brown told the BBC that a natural disaster had been turned into a "man-made catastrophe" because of the negligence of the ruling generals.

He said their actions since the cyclone, said to have killed at least 78,000, amounted to inhuman treatment.

France has said Burma is on the verge of committing a crime against humanity.

Burma has refused to allow in French and US aid ships which are waiting off the coast.

In addition to the dead, some 56,000 people are officially reported missing.

Burma took foreign diplomats on a tour of the worst-hit region, the Irrawaddy Delta, on Saturday but the visit was dismissed by a senior US envoy as a "show".

The international community is trying to organise a team of Asian and United Nations aid workers in the hope this will be more acceptable to Burma's rulers, a UK Foreign Office minister has said.

'This is inhuman'

Mr Brown said Burma's ruling generals would be judged by the world and their own people for thwarting the assistance offered by the rest of the world.

"This is inhuman. We have an intolerable situation, created by a natural disaster," he said.

"It is being made into a man-made catastrophe by the negligence, the neglect and the inhuman treatment of the Burmese people by a regime that is failing to act and to allow the international community to do what it wants to do.

"The responsibility lies with the Burmese regime and they must be held accountable."

Asked if he believed it was time for dropping aid by air, Mr Brown said nothing was being ruled out.

The UK and others are working to channel British aid through China and other Asian states, Mr Brown added.

UK Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown told the BBC from Rangoon that the idea of a mixed relief team was a "last best effort to try and meet the anxieties and paranoia... of the regime".

"Ultimately we will not stand by or go away... because the government won't receive assistance and deliver it," he said.

Lord Malloch-Brown travelled to Burma on Saturday and met aid workers and UN officials, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

A woman walks past a house destroyed by cyclone Nargis near Rangoon, 15 May, 2008
The cyclone has filled rice fields with sea water, destroying vital crops

He added: "Not enough aid is getting in and not enough aid workers are able to get out in the region, particularly international workers with long experience of disaster relief. That's a real problem."

'Show' tour

Aid agencies have also become frustrated by the slow progress of relief.

However, the authorities have allowed the UN and some other agencies to hand out supplies directly.

A team of 50 Indian medical personnel is also being allowed to fly into Rangoon on Saturday, equipped with medical supplies.

Foreign diplomats were flown to several sites in the delta by helicopter where they were shown survivors receiving aid in camps.

"It was a show - that's what they wanted us to see," Shari Villarosa, the top American diplomat in Burma, told The Associated Press.

But Bernard Delpuech, head of the European Commission Humanitarian Office in Rangoon, said the trip had at least shown "the magnitude of the devastation".

Detail from Nasa satellite images

"For the recovery you can't expect it to be six months or a year. It will take longer," Reuters quoted him as saying.

The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, John Holmes, is due to visit Rangoon on Sunday in a bid to persuade the government to grant more access to UN relief workers and expand its aid effort.

Correspondents say that at this stage it is not clear who he will be able to talk to given that Burma's leader, Gen Than Shwe, has refused to answer calls from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The Association of South East Asian Nations is due to meet on Monday, with plans for an aid donors' conference likely to be discussed.

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