May 13, 2008 / 7:08 PM / 11 years ago

UN worried aid may not reach Myanmar victims

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, May 13 (Reuters) - The United Nations is worried that some of the aid intended for victims of a deadly cyclone in Myanmar might have been diverted but has no hard proof this has occurred, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a regular news conference, spokeswoman Michel Montas was asked if the United Nations was concerned that some of the aid sent to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might be going to people who were not victims of Cyclone Nargis.

"That concern exists," she said. "We don’t have any independent report of a specific portion of the aid going to other sectors besides the victims (but) it is a fact that a very small percentage of victims have so far received the aid."

In Myanmar, heavy rains on Tuesday pelted homeless cyclone survivors in the country’s Irrawaddy delta, complicating the already slow delivery of aid to more than 1.5 million people facing hunger and disease.

As more foreign aid trickles in, critics have been ratcheting up the pressure on its military rulers to accelerate a relief effort that is only delivering an estimated one tenth of the supplies needed in the devastated delta.

One Yangon businessman who returned from a personal aid mission to Bogalay, a delta township where at least 10,000 people were killed, told Reuters that soldiers were appropriating aid.

"There are still some villages in the worst-hit areas that nobody has got to," the man, in his late 30s, said. "Around Bogalay, private donors are not allowed to distribute their assistance to the victims themselves. We had to hand over what we had."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke on Monday of his "immense frustration" at the junta’s "unacceptably slow response" to the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. In his most critical comments on Myanmar to date, he urged the junta to lift all restrictions on foreign relief workers.

Montas was asked if Ban felt the same way on Tuesday.

"It’s still too slow," she said, adding that the situation had improved somewhat since Monday.

"It’s not improving as fast we would wish," Montas said. "It’s not improving as fast as the situation requires. But some more aid is getting in today than ... yesterday."

Ban has been trying for days to speak with Myanmar’s senior general Than Shwe but has been unable to reach him, she said.

However, Ban discussed Myanmar’s humanitarian crisis with a number of senior officials in the region, including the president of Indonesia, prime minister of Singapore and foreign minister of China, she said.

U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes said on Monday U.N. relief workers had obtained 34 visas but needed more. Montas had no update on the number of visas issued.

However, she said aid workers from some countries were having fewer difficulties getting visas to help with the relief effort. She gave no details.

"It is a fact that certain nationalities are privileged." (Editing by Philip Barbara)

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