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Myanmar OKs Greater Access for Aid Workers but Obstacles Remain

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Friday that Myanmar's ruling junta had agreed to allow "all aid workers" into the cyclone-ravaged country -- although questions remain as to the timing and logistics of such access. Two aid officials discuss the state of relief efforts.

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    Just how much more aid will get to the Myanmar people now that the country's military rulers have said they will accept international help?

    We get two perspectives. Ned Olney is vice president for International Humanitarian Response at Save the Children. And Eric Stover is director of the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and adjunct professor of public health. He just returned from a two-week trip to Myanmar.

    Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

    And, Ned Olney, I want to turn to you first. What do you make of this announcement by the military rulers that now, after three weeks, they are going to let the aid workers come in?

    NED OLNEY, Save the Children: Well, we're enthusiastic and hopeful, and we're going to test it. Today we've already submitted two requests to get two of our staff out to the Irrawaddy Delta.

    We have questions, whether it means staff from all countries, whether it means just to Yangon or out to Irrawaddy, and what the process is going to be.

    But I think that this debate around visas and access has masked the fact that there is considerable amount of aid that is getting out to the Irrawaddy Delta and that most of that assistance is being delivered by really quite heroic Burmese staff.


    Eric Stover, do you see this as a breakthrough?

    ERIC STOVER, University of California, Berkeley: I wouldn't characterize it as a breakthrough. I would say it's very, very good news.

    But we have to keep a perspective here. And that is, as far as my knowledge is, this is the first time in recent history — or perhaps ever — that the U.N. secretary-general has had to travel three weeks into a crisis like this, a natural disaster, and has had to go to the head of that nation and ask — plead, in fact — to be able to have international aid come into the country.

    So while we need to focus and welcome this news, we also have to ask, why did this happen? And I would hope in the future, in the months ahead, the United Nations would consider even establishing a commission of inquiry, perhaps with the participation of ASEAN nations, to really establish what happened here and how can we respond better in the future.

    Because the cyclone season is going it to arrive again next year. There's also the possibility of other disasters, including earthquakes or an outbreak of avian influenza. And we can't have this slow response we've seen this time.

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