May 28, 2008 / 6:26 PM / 12 years ago

US ships may leave Myanmar if aid still refused

By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON, May 28 (Reuters) - U.S. warships will soon leave waters near Myanmar if the junta does not allow the American military to deliver food, water and other aid to cyclone survivors, a U.S. commander said on Wednesday.

Myanmar appears no closer to lifting restrictions on an international relief effort nearly four weeks after the storm left 134,000 people dead or missing and 2.4 million destitute, according to Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific.

He said the refusal by the military government of the former Burma to accept relief supplies aboard U.S. naval ships, including the USS Essex, could lead him to order the ships to leave the area.

"Absent a green light from the Burmese officials, I don’t think she (the Essex) will be there for weeks. A couple days, and then we’ll see." Keating told reporters at the Pentagon.

Myanmar has been promised millions of dollars in aid from the United States, other governments and aid organizations.

But the junta has refused to allow the U.S. military to help distribute aid to affected areas, appearing to fear that a large-scale international relief effort would loosen the grip the generals have held since a 1962 coup.

Witnesses say many villages have received no outside help.

"It is our assessment that we could still provide relief assistance, that there are still folks, principally in the Irrawaddy (Delta), many of them young, very young, whose moms and dads may not be alive anymore — not clear — who need the most bare-boned essentials, food and water and shelter," Keating said.

"We can provide all of those in significant quantity for a long period of, for a reasonable period of time."

The United States has been allowed to fly military transport aircraft into the country with some assistance that it hands to the Myanmar authorities. U.S. ships off the coast are carrying other supplies, including clean water, and could bring aid by helicopter to remote areas.

Keating said he did not know how much of the aid delivered by U.S. aircraft had been delivered to survivors. (Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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