Asia Crisis

China, Indonesia reject France's Myanmar push

(Adds British and U.S. ambassadors, diplomats)

UNITED NATIONS, May 8 (Reuters) - China and Indonesia on Thursday rejected France's idea of having the Security Council ratchet up the pressure on cyclone-devastated Myanmar to grant full access to foreign aid workers.

U.N. food agency and Red Cross/Red Crescent said they have finally started flying in emergency relief supplies after foot-dragging by the junta. But Western diplomats and U.N. officials complain that progress is still too slow.

The United Nations estimates that 1.5 million people have been "severely affected" by Cyclone Nargis and survivors have been crying out for food, water and other supplies after 100,000 people were feared killed by Saturday's cyclone.

France has suggested invoking a little used U.N. "responsibility to protect" concept in the reclusive southeast Asian state to deliver aid without government approval, but its bid to make the U.N. Security Council take a stand was rebuffed on Wednesday by China, Vietnam, South Africa and Russia.

The U.N. envoys of Indonesia and China spoke against politicizing the issue and dismissed reporters' suggestions that Myanmar was stonewalling international aid workers, including U.N. officials, by not issuing visas.

"We think there are other better forums to discuss the humanitarian dimension of the Myanmar situation," Indonesian Ambassador Marty Natalegawa told reporters ahead of a Security Council meeting.

"There is a already a readiness on the part of Myanmar to open itself to assistance," he said. "The last thing we would want is to give a political spin to the technical realities and the situation on the ground."


British envoy John Sawers also suggested that Britain had doubts about invoking the "responsibility to protect" idea.

"That (concept) relates to acts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and so forth, rather than responses to natural disasters," Sawers told reporters.

"I think what's most important is to keep the focus on the needs of the ... upwards of millions of people affected by this appalling disaster."

French Ambassador to the United Nations Jean-Maurice Ripert vowed that he would try again to persuade the 15-nation council that it was time to intervene. It was unclear when and if the council would discuss it again.

Beijing's deputy permanent representative, Ambassador Liu Zhenmin, made it clear that China, which has veto powers on the council, opposed any involvement of the U.N. Security Council.

"The current issue of Myanmar is a natural disaster," he said. "It's not an issue for the Security Council. It might be a good issue for other forums of the U.N."

Liu said the council should not politicize the issue and should "let the humanitarian assistance go on."

U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes has indicated that the French approach would not be helpful and could be seen by some as confrontation.

Western diplomats acknowledged that it would be difficult to persuade skeptics on the council about the need for getting the council involved. Council diplomats said Washington was among the most supportive of the French idea.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington was "outraged" by Myanmar's delays in allowing in aid.

State Myanmar radio and television reported a death toll of 22,980 with 42,119 missing and 1,383 injured in the most devastating cyclone since a 1991 storm in Bangladesh that killed 143,000.

A U.S. diplomat in Myanmar said diplomats there were receiving information that there may be over 100,000 deaths.

Editing by Sandra Maler