Defense Secretary Robert Gates of the United States said Myanmar was guilty of "criminal neglect" for blocking large-scale international aid to cyclone victims and that more Burmese civilians would perish unless the military regime reversed its policy.
As a result, he said, it was probably "a matter of days" before the Pentagon withdrew four navy ships carrying supplies that have been "steaming in circles" for days in the waters off Myanmar's coast, waiting in vain for permission to ferry their cargo to storm-stricken areas.
"It's becoming pretty clear that the regime there is not going to let us help," Gates, in the strongest remarks to date by a high-ranking U.S. official, said in Singapore before heading to Bangkok on the third leg of a weeklong trip to Asia. "I'd say that unless the regime changes its approach, changes its policy, more people will die."
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Gates to answer questions, said that the government of Myanmar had given permission for 95 U.S. C-130 cargo planes to land in Yangon, the country's main city, but that much more could be brought in from the navy vessels. The relief flights have ferried in more than 680,000 kilograms, or 1.5 million pounds, of supplies, mostly food, water, mosquito netting and plastic sheeting for shelters.
"Even though aid is beginning to flow," Gates said, "so many parts of the Irrawaddy Delta are cut off from any kind of transportation that it's really going to require helicopters to get assistance to them."
The U.S. Navy vessels, led by the amphibious assault ship Essex, have on board 22 helicopters, medical equipment, relief supplies, water purification systems and navy and Marine Corps personnel - all of which have been offered to the government of Myanmar to assist those affected by the cyclone.
When asked whether the government's actions were tantamount to genocide, Gates stopped short of that accusation. "This is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect," he said.
Gates, normally understated and unflappable under the most pointed questioning, flashed anger when asked about U.S. efforts to deliver relief aid to the cyclone victims. He noted that the United States had tried at least 15 times in the past month to get Myanmar's leaders to allow more international aid into the country, to no avail, and he called the government "deaf and dumb" for obstructing relief efforts. "We have really exercised our moral obligation above and beyond the call," he said Sunday.
Source: IHT “U.S. official condemns Myanmar junta over relief” 1 June 2008
Choosing Between US and UN Helicopters
4 June 2008: The US Navy said it will withdraw four ships because the ruling junta has refused their help. The US Navy had more than 20 heavy duty helicopters ready to go on their four ships off Myanmar's coast.
In contrast, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) hopes to have 10 helicopters delivering food and other relief supplies to cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy delta as early as the end of the week, while. The WFP already has one helicopter in Myanmar that has flown twice, and nine more helicopters waiting in Thailand, said Paul Risley, a spokesman with the WFP.
'There is still a critical need for these helicopters, especially for heavy lifting in bringing food assistance in the last leg of distribution to communities in the delta,' he said in Bangkok.
The WFP and the UN maintain a standing fleet of helicopters, and when the Myanmar junta said they would allow the UN to bring in helicopters 'we jumped at that opportunity,' he said, adding it was 'unfortunate' the ruling generals would not allow foreign military helicopters into the country.
Source: Malaysia Sun, Wednesday 4th June, 2008.