May 15, 2008 / 4:29 PM / 10 years ago

France, Britain send aid for Myanmar cyclone victims

PARIS, May 15 (Reuters) - France and Britain said on Thursday they were sending emergency supplies to Myanmar to help victims of Cyclone Nargis, which killed up to 128,000 people.

A French plane with 40 tonnes of food rations and other aid was due to arrive in Myanmar’s capital Yangon on Thursday and a navy ship was headed to Myanmar in the hope it will be allowed to enter the country, a French official said.

Since the storm devastated the heavily populated Irrawaddy delta rice bowl, supplies of food, medicine and shelter have been sent in dribs and drabs because the military government has kept tight restrictions on foreign aid workers and equipment.

That has prompted Western criticism the Myanmar government is increasing the risk of starvation and disease among the 2.5 million people left destitute by the disaster.

Britain said it was giving a further 12 million pounds ($23.34 million) for aid, adding to five million announced last week.

"The key priority is to deliver humanitarian aid as quickly as possible. The clock is ticking," said Douglas Alexander, secretary of state for international development.

"I reiterate our call on the Burmese authorities to grant full and unfettered access for international assistance," he said.

French aid group Action Contre la Faim (ACF), which provided the supplies being sent by plane, will take care of distribution itself.

"Not only is it (the plane) authorised to land in Yangon but we have been able to ensure that the supplies will be collected by ACF and ACF will be allowed to use them," said the senior official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The official and a French defence ministry spokesman said France had also despatched a navy helicopter carrier loaded with 1,000 tonnes of emergency supplies -- enough to provide 100,000 people with food and clean drinking water for two weeks.

The Mistral left the Indian port city of Chennai overnight and should take about three days to reach the waters off Myanmar, even though it had not yet been authorised to enter the country’s territory.

In the interim, pressure would be put on "the Myanmar authorities to obtain satisfactory modalities for the delivery of this aid," the official said.

France wanted the aid to be distributed in a transparent way and to be sure the supplies, which include mosquito nets and shelter for at least 60,000 people, would go directly to Myanmar’s stricken population, he said. (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovel in London; Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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