May 30, 2008 / 2:49 PM / 11 years ago

Myanmar afraid cyclone handling will show up junta-Singapore

SINGAPORE, May 30 (Reuters) - Myanmar is fearful of allowing foreign aid agencies into the country to help with the aftermath of a devastating cyclone because it could show that the ruling junta was not capable of handling the disaster, Singapore’s prime minister said on Friday.

"The military leaders surely know that foreign aid will save lives and help to rebuild the devastated areas. But they also fear the political consequence of opening up the disaster zone to international aid teams," Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a security conference.

"This might show up their own incapability, and undermine their credibility and legitimacy," he said.

Cyclone Nargis hit reclusive Myanmar on May 2, leaving 134,000 dead or missing. Myanmar only recently said it would let foreign aid workers into the country and this was prompted by criticism from the West and the United Nations that it was not doing enough to help its people.

Speaking at the opening of a security conference attended by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Lee also said Myanmar’s rulers were suspicious of humanitarian aid "serving as a camouflage for a ‘regime change’ agenda".

Four weeks after the disaster, the U.N. says fewer than one in two of the 2.4 million people affected by the cyclone have received any form of help from either the government, or international or local aid groups.

Myanmar’s junta started evicting destitute families from government-run cyclone relief centres on Friday, apparently out of concern they might become permanent.

The evictions come a day after official media in the former Burma lashed out at offers of foreign aid, criticising donors’ demands for access to the cyclone-damaged Irrawaddy delta and saying cyclone victims could "stand by themselves". (Reporting by Jan Dahinten & Melanie Lee; Editing by Valerie Lee)

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