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June 1, 2008
Gates says Burmese Junta guilty of 'criminal neglect'
Defense Secretary Gates pulled no punches during a press conference in Singapore where he has been meeting with other defense chiefs trying to figure out a way to get relief supplies into Burma despite the opposition of the government.The junta obviously cares more about having foreigners running around their tightly controlled country than in saving the lives of their citizens - many of whom are still at risk as a result of the cyclone that struck three weeks ago.
Gates used the strongest language yet by a US official to describe the actions of the Burmese government:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates of the United States said Sunday that Myanmar was guilty of "criminal neglect" for blocking large-scale international aid to cyclone victims and that more Burmese civilians would perish unless the military regime reversed its policy.
But despite the rising anger and frustration with Myanmar's military leaders, Gates said that defense ministers meeting in Singapore over the weekend had unanimously opposed any plan to violate Burmese sovereignty and forcibly provide relief supplies.
As a result, he said, it was probably "a matter of days" before the Pentagon withdrew four navy ships carrying supplies that have been "steaming in circles" for days in the waters off Myanmar's coast, waiting in vain for permission to ferry their cargo to storm-stricken areas.
"It's becoming pretty clear that the regime there is not going to let us help," Gates, in the strongest remarks to date by a high-ranking U.S. official, said in Singapore before heading to Bangkok on the third leg of a weeklong trip to Asia. "I'd say that unless the regime changes its approach, changes its policy, more people will die."
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Gates to answer questions, said that the government of Myanmar had given permission for 95 U.S. C-130 cargo planes to land in Yangon, the country's main city, but that much more could be brought in from the navy vessels. The relief flights have ferried in more than about 680,000 kilograms, or 1.5 million pounds, of supplies, mostly food, water, mosquito netting and plastic sheeting for shelters.
Aid workers are reporting that the hardest hit areas inland are still flooded and most of the food supply was washed away. A massive effort is needed to avoid more casualties but it has simply not been forthcoming from the junta.