YANGON, Myanmar — A U.S. plane ferried relief to Myanmar for the first time Monday to help nearly 2-million cyclone victims facing disease and starvation, but the U.N. chief criticized the military junta for its "unacceptably slow response."
Even as the death toll climbed, Myanmar's authoritarian regime continued to bar nearly all foreigners experienced in managing humanitarian crises from reaching survivors of Cyclone Nargis.
With hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed in the disaster zone, refugees packed into Buddhist monasteries or camped in the open, drinking dirty water contaminated by dead bodies and animal carcasses. Medicine and food were sorely lacking, even as supplies bottled up at the main international airport.
Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, was pounded by heavy rain Monday and more downpours were expected throughout the week, further hindering aid deliveries. For many, the rainwater was the only source of clean drinking water.
Monks and survivors say the military regime is curbing the Buddhist clerics' efforts to provide food, shelter and spiritual solace. Authorities have given some monasteries deadlines to clear out refugees, many of whom have no homes to return to, they say.
The government has not announced such an order, which appeared to be applied selectively. Large monasteries were being closely watched by troops and plainclothes security men — "invisible spies," as one monk called them.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon chided the junta for its "unacceptably slow response" in helping victims of the cyclone, which hit May 3, and warned of a deepening crisis.
Myanmar's authoritarian regime made a huge concession Monday by letting the United States — the fiercest critic of its human rights record — bring in relief after prolonged negotiations. The U.S. military C-130 cargo plane was filled with 14 tons of water, mosquito nets and blankets and unloaded in Yangon. The supplies were immediately transferred to Myanmar army trucks to be ferried by air force helicopters to the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta, government spokesman Ye Htut said. U.S. military officials said they hoped it would be the start of a steady flow of aid, with two more flights planned for today.
The official death toll rose by nearly 3,500 Monday to 31,938, with 30,000 missing; the United Nations has said the death toll could top 100,000.