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Myanmar Allows U.N. Officials to Tour Hard-hit Areas

U.N. officials began to tour the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar on Monday, though some U.N. staffers still reported problems gaining access to the tightly controlled country. A senior U.S. diplomat in Rangoon, also known as Yangon, provides an update.

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    Now more on the international aid efforts and contacts between Myanmar and the international community. Ray Suarez talked earlier today with Shari Villarosa. She's the top U.S. diplomat in Rangoon.


    Shari Villarosa, welcome to the program.

    Since last we spoke, you had an opportunity to visit the cyclone-affected areas as part of a government tour. What did you see?

    SHARI VILLAROSA, U.S. Diplomat in Burma: We went to three different towns that had been hard-hit by the storm. Two were larger towns that appeared to be recovering, with markets open.

    The last was more of a village with basically still underwater. We saw tents where people were in. Some of the tents looked occupied. Other of the tents looked like they had been set up to show visitors. So I'm not sure that they're exactly occupied.


    Were you able to go where you wanted, or was this a tour where the government showed you camps they wanted the international community to see?


    Yes, I mean, we were taken in the helicopter and we went there. While we were there, we were free to walk around, and I did.

    We went to one school where there were 2,000 people living, while they were putting on presentations for the other, I was wandering around and came across like a room filled with relief supplies that I couldn't quite figure out why they were not being distributed. Possibly they were there for the people living in the school; I don't know.

    But nobody interfered with me as I wandered about. But certainly since we were taken from helicopter, from place to place — but we couldn't sit there and say, OK, we want you to touch down here.


    Have you detected any change in attitude toward American offers of aid in your conversations with the government of Myanmar?


    Yes, they seem to be ready to open some more to international assistance, including letting international relief workers come in.

    During my visit, the minister of planning was, I guess, the group leader, and I specifically asked him about this. And he said that it was going to be possible.

    We've subsequently heard that they're prepared to let ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Burma is a member, to kind of take the lead. And then there's the hope that, with ASEAN coming in, then the U.N., and the rest of the international community can come in behind them.