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18 August 2017
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Burma neighbours in cyclone talks

Burma`s military rulers have so far blocked most large-scale foreign aid

The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) is holding urgent talks to discuss ways of helping Burma`s cyclone victims, according to BBC.

Foreign ministers meeting in Singapore hope Burma`s military rulers - who have so far blocked most large-scale foreign aid offers - will accept Asean help.

But correspondents say the grouping cannot force a solution on a member, as decisions are only made by consensus.

Burma says some 78,000 people have died since the cyclone hit on 2 May.

But aid agencies say many more may die without urgent help - according to Save the Children, some 30,000 acutely malnourished children under five years of age in Burma are threatened by death from starvation.

In other developments:

- The leader of Burma`s junta, General Than Shwe, met the cyclone victims in relief camps near Rangoon for the first time on Sunday;

- A senior UN envoy, John Holmes, is in Burma, touring the Irrawaddy Delta region;

- UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit on Wednesday;

- An international donor conference is expected for later in the week.

Analysts say the forthcoming visit by Ban Ki-moon appears to demonstrate a thaw in the Burmese government`s dealings with the UN - General Than Shwe had earlier refused to take telephone calls from Mr Ban.

The junta has been criticised around the world for obstructing international efforts to help the cyclone victims.

The Malaysian foreign minister, Dr Rais Yatim, told the BBC there was a tremendous sense of frustration about aid not getting in to Burma, but he added that little could be done without the cooperation of the authorities there.

The BBC`s Jonathan Head says Asean will likely try to lead an emergency relief effort using Asian organisations to channel international aid - as, he says, their citizens may be more acceptable to Burma`s xenophobic generals

`Dramatic steps`

On Sunday, UK Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown said the aid operation was finally "starting to move".

He said there were signs that Burma might accept a compromise brokered by Asian intermediaries to allow more foreign help, including allowing Western ships to deliver aid.

"We`re just going to have see what negotiations in the coming days by the Asian leaders, by the UN secretary-general, achieve.

"I think you`re going to see quite dramatic steps by the Burmese to open up," he told the BBC.

The UN says it believes 2.4 million people are currently suffering as a result of the storm.

About 150,000 are living in temporary settlements, and are still short of food and water.

The BBC`s Chris Hogg in Bangkok says there has been some progress though - about 250,000 people have now been given food rations that should last them a fortnight.

Our correspondent says about 19,000 people are injured, and many hospitals and clinics have lost all their equipment.

BBC
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