World frustration with the Burmese regime's slow response to the cyclone disaster boiled over Saturday with France accusing it of being on the verge of committing a crime against humanity by not accepting foreign aid.
Offers of aid and expertise for Burma have poured in from around the world
Jean-Maurice Ripert told a meeting of all members of the United Nations on Saturday that the situation in Burma, also known as Myanmar, was turning "slowly from a situation of not helping people in danger to a real risk of crimes against humanity."
"Hundreds of thousands of lives are in jeopardy and we think that the primary responsibility of the government of Myanmar (Burma) is to help and open the borders so that the international aid could come into the place," Ripert said.
The French UN ambassador was reacting to comments by Burma's UN ambassador, accusing France of sending a warship to region.
France says the ship is carrying 1,500 tonnes of food and medicine for survivors of Cyclone Nargis. The French 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.
French frustration at the Burmese military regime's slow-moving response to the cyclone catastrophe which has claimed 78,000 lives, according to Burmese state TV, was echoed by leaders and governments across the world on Saturday.
There are fears of famine and starvation among the cyclone survivors
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown denounced the junta's "inhuman" treatment of around two million survivors battling to stay alive two weeks after the storm hit.
"We have an intolerable situation created by a natural disaster," Brown, whose country was the colonial power when Myanmar was known as Burma, told the BBC.
"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."
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu wrote to Brown, Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, calling on the UN Security Council to authorize aid drops over the objections of the generals.
He said the regime had "effectively declared war on its own population and is committing crimes against humanity."
Fears of famine
The international community has been turning up the pressure on the country's military rulers, who have been criticized for holding up visas for foreign disaster experts and insisting on managing the relief effort alone.
The EU's humanitarian aid chief Louis Michel has warned there is a risk of famine because of the scope of the destruction in the rice-growing Irrawady Delta which was the worst hit by the cyclone and where entire villages have been wiped away.
Burma's military has said yes to aid but no to foreign workers
Wary of any foreign influence that could weaken its 46 years of iron rule in Myanmar, Burma's military junta has insisted on managing the operation itself and kept most international disaster experts away.
But aid groups say the government cannot possibly handle the tragedy by itself, with hundreds of tons of supplies and high-tech equipment piling up in warehouses, bottle-necked by logistics and other problems.
Faced with mounting criticism, the junta flew some diplomats and aid workers Saturday into the heart of the disaster zone -- which has been all but sealed off to the outside world.
"What they showed us looked very good," said Chris Kaye, Myanmar director for the UN's World Food Programme. "But they are not showing us the whole picture."
One diplomat told AFP: "It was like a steam-roller had gone through the entire delta region."
The junta has blocked journalists from getting to the southern Irrawaddy Delta and there are reports of patchy relief efforts by the Burmese military to get relief supplies to survivors.
US President George W Bush has extended sanctions on Myanmar by another year because of its "large-scale repression of the democratic opposition."