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International Community Urges Burma to Accept Cyclone Aid

With the death toll after last weekend's cyclone in Burma continuing to rise, the international community urged the Burmese government to accept aid as Germany pledged 500,000 euros ($775,000) in emergency assistance.

Burmese people wait for aid

Tens of thousands of people are in dire need of emergency aid after the cyclone

Burmese state television is reporting that 22,000 people were killed in the natural disaster and that 41,000 are still missing.

The United Nations, which is also preparing to fly in supplies, say several hundreds of thousands of Burmese have been left homeless. Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas wiped out. The former capital Rangoon, the country's largest city, has been left without water and electricity.

Germany's foreign ministry announced in Berlin on Monday, May 5, that it would channel the pledged funds through German aid organizations. The aid is intended to provide emergency accommodation, drinking water, household utensils and mosquito nets.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed his condolences to the families of those who had died. He also appealed to the military government to launch an effective assistance operation and to cooperate with international aid organizations.

The British government pledged 5 million pounds [6.3 million euros, $9.8 million] in aid for victims of the cyclone that has struck Burma, the International Development Department said.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the money would be channelled through the United Nations and was the "the largest single effort of any member state of the United Nations so far".

Earlier, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "I want to pledge on behalf of the British government that we will work with the whole international community to make sure that the food aid and the other support that is necessary is available to the people of Burma."

US calls for authorities to allow aid

Meanwhile, US President George W. Bush implored Burma's ruling junta to accept US disaster relief.

President George W. Bush

Bush urged the Burmese authorities to accept help

"Our message is, to the military rulers: 'Let the United States come to help you, help the people,'" Bush said, as Myanmar's government set unspecified conditions for foreign relief groups to enter the storm-battered country.

The US embassy has offered 250,000 dollars in emergency aid in response to tropical cyclone Nargis, but the White House said a disaster-relief team hoped to go in to assess the impoverished and secretive nation's needs while two US Navy ships loaded with water and other supplies were nearby, ready to help.

"The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more," Bush said as he signed a law giving Burma democracy icon and junta foe Aung San Suu Kyi the top civilian award the US Congress can bestow.

"We're prepared to move US Navy assets to help find those who've lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," said the president.

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Washington was worried because the junta had yet to answer a US visa request for an eight-person Disaster Aid Response Team [DART] whose mission would be to assess Burma's aid needs

EU calls for aid to go straight to the needy

Slovenia's Foreign Minister and President of the Council Dimitri Rupel, left, talks with his Austrian counterpart Ursula Plassnik, center, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana

The EU's foreign policy experts urge Burma to open up

The European Union echoed the calls for the Burmese authorities to "make every effort to cooperate" with relief organisations after Burma said aid teams would have to meet its conditions.

"Every effort must be made to make sure that assistance is delivered directly to the people most affected by disaster," the EU's Slovenia presidency said in a statement.

"The EU hopes that, in the interest of the population suffering from the emergency, the authorities will make every effort to cooperate with the international relief organizations," it added.

A Burmese minister said Tuesday that foreign aid teams wanting to come to the military-ruled nation after the devastating cyclone would have to negotiate with the regime to be granted access.

But European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj told journalists in Brussels: "The Burmese authorities of course have to be cooperative," referring to Myanmar by its old name of Burma.

On Monday, the European Commission released an initial two million euros [$3 million] in emergency aid for victims of the weekend cyclone.

Military junta stalls after initial acceptance

Satellite image of Nargis

The Burmese government have been accused of failing to issue timely weather warnings

The scale of the disaster caused by Cyclone Nargis initially prompted a rare acceptance of external aid from the country's diplomatically isolated government, which rejected such offers of help after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

"This shows how grave it is in the Burmese government's mind," said Tim Costello, the head of aid agency World Vision in Australia, adding that his and other aid organizations had been given permission to fly people to Burma, "which is pretty unprecedented."

However, the UN said on Tuesday, May 6, that it is still waiting for Burma to approve visas for disaster relief workers to go in and assess the situation.

There has been international criticism of the government's failure to warn its people of the impending storm in time.

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