US seeks Indian help to reach Myanmar cyclone victims

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : The US has asked India and five other countries to use “whatever leverage and influence they might have” with Myanmar to allow America to provide assistance and experts to the cyclone ravaged nation.

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The US has been in touch with the Myanmar Embassy in Washington as also its neighbouring countries to encourage access for US assistance and experts, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Wednesday.

“We’ve also been in contact with China, Japan, and India about their using whatever leverage and influence they might have with the Burmese regime,” besides Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, he said.

The US, McCormack said, had asked these countries’ help “to get them to allow in outside assistance teams so that they can help make assessments so they can provide on-the-ground assistance to help out with what is very clearly a humanitarian disaster of immense scope.”

The US was working to pre-position supplies and materials for the eventuality that assistance is allowed in. It had also provided overhead imagery to the Myanmar Government and to the UN to assist them in damage assessment.

Washington also has “some sort of military assets” in the area or that will shortly be in the area that could possibly be at the disposal of those coordinating disaster relief, he said without providing specific details.

Asked if these could be provided through the United Nations, McCormack said: “The US position has not been traditionally to put US military assets under UN command.”

“They have worked closely, of course, with the UN and other international actors in disaster relief, most recently several years ago with the disaster relief for the tsunami in Southeast Asia and South Asia.

“But the military, our military, worked very closely with humanitarian organisations, other governments, and I believe the UN in that case. But they, again, operated under a separate chain of command,” he said.

Asked if the US was pre-positioning the supplies and material intended for Myanmar like the French, British and Indian navies, which had ships directly opposite the worst hit areas, McCormack said: “I believe they are in the area.”

“I don’t know that we could describe them as being directly opposite the areas affected, but they’re substantial assets and it’s our belief that they could be of some assistance, some great assistance in helping relieve the humanitarian suffering that is going on in the affected areas,” he said.