BANGKOK, Thailand — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon arrived today in Myanmar for the diplomatic challenge of a lifetime — persuading the ruling generals to let in a torrent of foreign assistance for cyclone victims.
He urged the junta Wednesday to focus on saving lives, not on politics, after it refused an American proposal for U.S. warships to deliver relief supplies.
By the junta's own count, at least 134,000 people are dead or missing from the May 2-3 cyclone. The U.N. says up to 2.5-million survivors are hungry and homeless, and there are worries about disease in the Irrawaddy River delta.
Ban, a career diplomat who was South Korea's foreign minister before taking the U.N. post, is scheduled to meet with government ministers and international aid agencies in Yangon, the country's largest city. He is also to be flown by helicopter to the hard-hit delta area and attend a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Seinvef.
The isolationist regime is deeply suspicious of outsiders and antagonistic toward the United Nations over its lead role in international pressure to restore democracy, seeing the world body as a stooge of the United States and other Western nations.
Myanmar has slowly geared up to receive material assistance for storm victims but it is still reluctant to accept more than a relative handful of foreign rescue and relief workers.
World Food Program officials in Bangkok said Myanmar had agreed to allow the U.N. agency to use 10 helicopters to deliver aid to stranded cyclone survivors beginning today. It wasn't clear when the operation would start. The helicopters had to be chartered, flown in on cargo planes to Thailand and reassembled.
The helicopters had permission to fly directly to the devastated delta region. Myanmar rejected such help from the United States.