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UN head in Bangkok before visit to cyclone-hit Myanmar
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09:09, May 22, 2008

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived here Wednesday before heading for Myanmar to visit cyclone-affected areas and meet Myanmar leaders, in a bid to urge them to open further for international relief staff and to source more "non-politicized" assistance.

Upon his arrival at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport Wednesday afternoon, Ban told journalists that he will fly to Myanmar Thursday morning "to see for myself the affected areas and to meet the people crying in need and demonstrate my sympathy and support for all those people who suffered from this Cyclone Nargis."

He will also meet senior officials of the Myanmar government, including the top leader Senior General Than Shwe, he said.

On Friday evening, Ban will be back in Bangkok to meet with Thai PM Samak Sundarvej and Foreign Minister Noppadon on the next day.

On Sunday, he will fly back to Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar, to attend the International Pledging Conference co-organized by the United Nations (UN) and the association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to talk with Myanmar officials, leaders of ASEAN countries and international donors to source international assistance for relief and rehabilitation work in Myanmar.

"This is a critical moment for Myanmar. The government itself accepted that they have never been devastated to this stage in the history. We have a functioning relief program in place, but so far we have been able to reach only about 25 percent of the people in need," the UN head said.

The UN has received permission of Myanmar government to have nine World Food Program (WFP) helicopters to carry emergency supplies to Myanmar, Ban noted, while urging the Myanmar side to "gallop" cooperation.

Economic effects brought by the Cyclone that hit Myanmar on May3, are severe, with 60 percent of infrastructure in Irrawaddy area having been destroyed, farmlands on risk, and an estimated loss often billion U.S. dollars.

One of the objectives for the UN head's visit is "to reinforce partnership between Myanmar and the international community, including ASEAN and key neighboring countries like India and China. This is will be the primary focus of the May 25 pledging conference and the special taskforce comprising ASEAN and UN," Ban said.

The aim is to make sure that the immediate relief efforts are well coordinated, efficiently delivered and effective to help Myanmar people overcome this tragedy, he added.

He stressed that all assistance or aid to Myanmar "should not be politicized", "Our focus now is saving lives."

John Holmes, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, told Xinhua that one of the major focus of talks of the UN Secretary-General in Myanmar will be urging Myanmar government to open further and act quicker for foreign aid and relief workers to reach the affected people. More permissions for helicopters carrying aid to affected areas will be sought.

Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon said at least the ten members of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has promised to respectively dispatch a 30-strong medical team to Myanmar in the next few days, as a start for the UN-ASEAN Task Force led by ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan to coordinate assistance efforts in Myanmar.


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