Thursday, May 8, 2008

Burma SOS: send military helicopters, ships, cargo planes

The ambassador of France to the United Nations called a meeting of the UN Security Council to pressure the Burmese military regime to accept humanitarian aid. AP reports on the outcome of that meeting:

The Security Council discussed a proposal by France to authorize the U.N. to enter Myanmar and deliver aid without waiting for approval from the military in Yangon, but several countries blocked its adoption.

France argued the U.N. has that responsibility — and power — because of language adopted in 2005 saying the U.N. has a "responsibility to protect" people sometimes when nations fail to do it. That language did not mention natural disasters.

"We think it is time for the U.N. to intervene," France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters. "If we don't do anything, people will continue to die, epidemics will spread out and it will be a catastrophe."

France has acknowledged that only large-scale humanitarian intervention will make much difference. Reports from on-the-ground observers in Burma would lead anyone to draw this conclusion. To suggest otherwise is not to hear the voices on the ground.

For example, Souheil Reiche, Head of Medecins Sans Frontieres Operations (Switzerland) in Yangoon, informs us: "it is clear today that, with the limited means we have, both in terms of human resources and material, we are not able to adequately respond to the needs of the population."

Dan Rivers of CNN -- also inside Burma -- describes how inaccessible many victims of the disaster are:
. . . the worry here in Bogalay, south of the former capital of Yangon, was how relief workers would be able to cross the difficult terrain to reach victims. The journey to the town is very difficult -- crisscrossed by rivers and lush patches of trees. It is punctuated by few roads, many of which are clogged by debris.
"The Burmese government can't handle the situation on their own. This requires tsunami-like assistance and the most likely state actor capable of providing this would be the US military" blogged Bangkok Pundit, a perception which will surely be repeated as another day wears on. Another day of Burmese junta dithering. Another day in which millions of cyclone survivors plead for food and emergency medical attention.

In the aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia, helicopters from the USS Kitty Hawk were flying victims to safety within hours. This is a disaster on a similar scale to the great tsunami of 2005. Experts now speculate that death toll could reach 100,000.

The general responsible for US Pacific Command told a news conference that the US navy had begun positioning assets in the vicinity of Myanmar two days before the cyclone hit to assist in recovery efforts. At least four cargo helecopters are on standby in Thailand.

France also has assets in the vicinity, according to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner:

French boats with helicopters aboard were in waters near Myanmar and could move quickly to help. The boats were in the area for a naval maneuver, he said.

"We can intervene in the hours, or minutes, to come" if Myanmar grants its approval, he said. He also said that a crisis team was ready to leave France, but was waiting for visas from the Myanmar Embassy in Paris.
Large-scale humanitarian assistance is required on a scale that the Burmese junta may not be willing to entertain. France is quick to recognize this fact. Meanwhile, the very lives of millions of Burmese hang in the balance. Burma needs helicopters and ships -- fast.

Enough talk. Let's roll.

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