Hong Kong: Asian nations joined the international community in offering aid and support for victims of cyclone in Myanmar, after a rare appeal for help from the reclusive nation’s military junta.
The Southeast Asian country, whose rulers normally shun foreign aid, reached out to the world as the death toll climbed to more than 15,000 after tropical cyclone Nargis tore through the impoverished nation during the weekend.
“I believe that the government and people of Myanmar will soon overcome the difficulties caused by the cyclone and restore normal life and production,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in a message to his Myanmar counterpart General Thein Sein.
Wen expressed sympathies and condolences to the Myanmar people, according to the statement that was posted on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website. Interestingly, there was no mention of any potential aid from Beijing to Myanmar.
China, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand offered help
China is one of Myanmar’s closest political allies and has invested large sums of money to take advantage of its neighbour’s energy and mineral assets, while helping to build the country’s infrastructure.
Immediate neighbour Thailand airlifted more than $400,000 worth of food, drinking water and medical supplies, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said.
Economic giant Japan offered $270,000 in emergency aid including tents, electric power generators and other emergency goods “considering the urgency of the situation there and humanitarian aspects to it,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Asean appealed for “generous” international aid for member Myanmar, with Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, saying the 10-member grouping has begun to mobilize help through coordination centres in its capitals. “We are now appealing to all Asean governments, private sector and civil society to respond generously,” he told reporters in Singapore.
Meanwhile Singapore, which has close ties to Myanmar, expressed solidarity and help. “I am deeply saddened to learn about the widespread damage caused by Cyclone Nargis over the weekend,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo said in a letter, dated Monday, to his Myanmar counterpart Nyan Win. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said her country was willing to provide aid but only through UN agencies.
Elsewhere around the world support and offers of assistance were tempered by criticism of Myanmar’s rulers for failing to take steps to prevent the horrific death toll.
Washington released an initial sum of $250,000 towards the relief effort. However U.S. First Lady Laura Bush accused Myanmar’s rulers of having failed to warn their citizens in time about the approach of the killer cyclone and said Washington was ready to increase its initial emergency outlay.
Bush declined to give a precise dollar figure, saying the junta first had to allow a U.S. disaster assistance response team into the country. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the organization “will do whatever (necessary) to provide urgent humanitarian assistance,” and stressed that a disaster management team was ready to leave for Myanmar. The European Union also released $3 million dollars in initial emergency aid.