May 13, 2008 / 10:27 AM / 11 years ago

EU piles up pressure on Myanmar to allow aid

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU piled pressure on Myanmar’s junta on Tuesday to allow in aid workers to help the victims of cyclone Nargis and warned of “an even greater tragedy” and possible U.N. action if it did not cooperate.

Helpers of the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (Technisches Hilfswerk) load equipment for water preparation into a Iljushin 76 cargo plane at Frankfurt Hahn airport May 13, 2008. The German government has sent 12 experts to Myanmar followed today by 30 tons of equipment to help assure a clean drinking water supply for the victims of Cyclone Nargis. REUTERS/Alex Grimm

The European Union’s top aid official Louis Michel has received a visa to go to Myanmar to urge the authorities to allow in aid workers and relief supplies.

In a statement after emergency talks on Myanmar in Brussels, EU development ministers called on Yangon “to offer free and unfettered access to international humanitarian experts, including the expeditious delivery of visa and travel permits”.

The military government has accepted aid from the outside world but it has only trickled into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta of the former Burma because its military rulers have largely barred foreign teams.

Spain said on Tuesday failure to allow in aid could amount to a crime against humanity. The United Nations says more than 1.5 million people are struggling to survive and up to 100,000 are dead or missing after cyclone Nargis hit.

The EU ministers stopped short of endorsing a French call to deliver aid if necessary without the junta’s permission.


France’s junior minister for human rights said it had the backing of Britain and Germany to call on the United Nations Security Council for aid to be taken into Myanmar without the government’s green light if necessary.

“We have called for the ‘responsibility to protect’ to be applied in the case of Burma,” Rama Yade told reporters.

British officials said London would welcome discussion of the responsibility to protect but did not consider the proposal realistic at present given Russian and Chinese objections.

A first French bid to have the Security Council adopt its idea of aid without authorisation was rebuffed last week by China, Vietnam, South Africa, Russia, and Britain.

Germany’s development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul backed the French call. “Countries are obliged to help if a government fails to help its people,” she said.

Aid agency Oxfam questioned the idea of parachuting in relief supplies without permission. “At best, air drops can only be partial and give the illusion that the situation is addressed,” spokesman Alexander Woollcombe said.

Before flying to Bangkok on Tuesday, Michel said the objective of his visit was purely humanitarian and had nothing to do with politics.

The European Union has long-standing sanctions on Myanmar over the suppression of pro-democracy forces.

The European Commission has released 2 million euros ($3 million) in aid and up to 30 million euros is available pending better information from the ground, a spokesman said.

Writing by Ingrid Melander; Additional reporting by Ilona Wissenbach and Yves Clarisse; Editing by Robert Woodward

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