Asia Crisis

U.N. gets Myanmar permit for emergency aid flight

GENEVA, May 7 (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Wednesday it had obtained permission to fly emergency supplies to cyclone-ravaged Myanmar but aid workers were still waiting for visas to enter the isolated country.

"The government has given the authorisation to have the U.N. ship relief items to Myanmar," said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"They may also give authorisation to a small team from OCHA to accompany the relief flight," Byrs said, adding that the flight would leave "as soon as possible".

The shipment from a U.N. warehouse in Brindisi, Italy, will include tents, water purification tablets, generators, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, and blankets for survivors of the cyclone that Myanmar estimates killed nearly 22,500 people and left 41,000 missing.

The military government deployed helicopters on Wednesday to drop food and water to those marooned in the Irrawaddy delta, where entire villages were destroyed by a massive storm surge.

The U.N.'s World Food Programme, which had begun stockpiling food supplies in Myanmar before Cyclone Nargis struck on Friday and Saturday, has been distributing rice in the capital Yangon.

Byrs said a five-member U.N. disaster management assessment team in Thailand had not yet received visas allowing them to enter Myanmar.

Other U.N. and international aid agencies are also awaiting visas to allow them into the former Burma, which borders China, India, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand.

U.S. President George W. Bush offered Myanmar emergency assistance on Tuesday, including the use of U.S. Navy ships and aircraft carriers and $3 million to meet urgent needs.

But he made the offer at a signing ceremony awarding the military junta's strongest political opponent -- detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi -- the Congressional Gold Medal, the top U.S. civilian honour.

Myanmar's government has faced sharp criticism over its human rights record, particularly over the violent suppression of democracy protests led by monks last September. (For more information on humanitarian crises and issues visit (Editing by Tim Pearce)