French ship still waiting for Myanmar junta clearance

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The ship carrying 1,000 tonnes of food and emergency supplies for cyclone victims has been navigating just outside Myanmar waters since Saturday, says minister.

19 May 2008

PARIS - Myanmar has still not given a French ship clearance to land 1,000 tonnes of food and emergency supplies for cyclone victims, France's foreign minister said Monday.

The minister, Bernard Kouchner, also said that a planned cyclone aid conference risked diverting attention the mission of saving lives in the Asian nation.

The Mistral left the south Indian port of Chennai on Wednesday and has been navigating since Saturday on the Irrawady delta just outside Myanmar waters.

"It is on the edge of Myanmar territorial waters," Kouchner told Europe 1 radio.

The vessel - which is equipped with three helicopters - is carrying enough food to sustain 100,000 people for two weeks and tents and tarpaulin sheets to provide shelter to 60,000 homeless people.

The United Nations says 2.4 million people were still critically short of aid 17 days after the tragedy which left at least 133,000 people dead or missing.

Relief agencies warned that the most vulnerable survivors will start dying soon unless they get the aid they need.

A former humanitarian campaigner and co-founder of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Kouchner warned that restrictions on aid imposed by the Myanmar junta were "non-assistance to people whose lives are in danger".
He urged Myanmar not to let the situation "evolve into crimes against humanity."

He also warned that an international aid conference risked distracting from the vital mission of saving lives, though he said Paris would not stay away from the planned talks.
"What we need to bring is hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart help, not donor conferences with all their bowing and scraping," Kouchner said in the interview. "In the meantime, people are dying".

[AFP / Expatica]

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