France sees Security Council "cowardice" on Myanmar

PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Monday countries on the U.N. Security Council that did not agree to pressure Myanmar into opening its doors to foreign aid were guilty of “cowardice”.

France has tried unsuccessfully to convince the Council that Myanmar’s military rulers should let aid reach the victims of Cyclone Nargis under a “responsibility to protect” principle recognized in a 2005 U.N. resolution.

China, Russia, Vietnam and South Africa have opposed Council involvement in what they say is a humanitarian, not a political issue.

“We denounce the impending death of thousands more civilians, and we are accused of meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state,” Kouchner, who founded medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in an opinion piece in newspaper Le Monde.

Kouchner recognized the concept of a “responsibility to protect” was only passed by the United Nations with armed conflicts in mind, and therefore did not apply to Myanmar, where the cyclone hit two weeks ago, leaving 134,000 dead and missing.

Instead he cited a 1988 resolution which states that leaving the victims of natural disasters without humanitarian assistance “constitutes a threat to human life and an offence to human dignity” and invites states in need of help to facilitate the work of aid groups.

“This is indeed a fundamental human right,” Kouchner said.

“International policy, the morality of extreme emergency demand that it be respected. The member states of the Security Council could only shy away from it at the cost of cowardice,” he added.

Kouchner’s comments were written before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said on Monday Myanmar would accept medical workers from southeast Asian countries and was ready to accept international aid agencies.

Humanitarian agencies say the death toll of Nargis, one of the most devastating cyclones to hit Asia, could soar without a massive increase of emergency food, water shelter and medicine to the worst-hit region, the Irrawaddy Delta.

France has sent a navy ship with around 1,000 tonnes of humanitarian equipment to the waters off the delta, but it has not received permission from the junta to deliver the aid.

“We hope that the cargo will be unloaded and discharged by some people coming from the ASEAN countries,” Kouchner told a news conference later on Monday.

“We are facing the water with no clearance to come inside (Myanmar) and help the people. The situation is more or less blocked,” he said, adding later that France could turn to the United Nations or the World Food Programme.

Myanmar’s U.N. envoy accused France on Friday of sending a “warship”, a charge the French ambassador denied. France has said the junta is on the verge of a “crime against humanity”.