Burmese Junta will allow Foreign Aid Workers - finally

It's no accident that the military leaders of Burma have finally acceeded to the humanitarian cries of the world to allow aid workers into the country - three weeks after a devastating cyclone hit.

The fact is, there is an international donor's conference this weekend and it's apparent that the Junta is going to try and finagle a huge amount of money from the international community:

Ban's statement was met with surprise and wariness by relief officials here, not least because the pledge was delivered on the eve of an international donor's conference in Myanmar this weekend. While the junta has largely ignored international criticism of its slow response to the May 3 storm, which left some 134,000 people dead or missing, it is now asking for $11.7 billion in reconstruction money. That is nearly as much as Myanmar's annual gross domestic product.

Ban did not release details of his discussions with junta or whether it was now promising a free flow of what aid officials say is desperately needed relief. He gave no indication when the Myanmar government would allow aid workers to enter the country and whether they would be allowed to travel to the badly hit Irrawaddy Delta.

But he told reporters traveling with him: "I had a very good meeting with the senior general, particularly on these aid workers."

Taken off guard, relief officials said a key issue would be whether the relief workers would be allowed free access to hard-hit areas where the United Nations says aid has reached only 25 percent of the storms 2.4 million victims.

It's only in the last few days that any foreign aid has reached the Burmese people at all. And those in most desperate need of aid have seen almost nothing.

Despite that the Junta says the "emergency phase" of the operation is over. Now give us money:

Although the United Nations says more than a million people are still in urgent need of food, water, shelter and medical supplies, the junta insists that "the emergency phase of the operation is over" and that international donors should focus on reconstruction, which would include instead large amounts of machinery and materials.

"This discrepancy is a confidence gap that has to be verified, that has to be reconciled," said the Asean secretary general, Surin Pitsuwan. "Whether the Sunday pledging conference will be successful or not depends on the ability to reconcile the difference."

He added that without international access to the worst-hit areas, "the shared concern is we don't know the extent of the damage."

"We don't know the number of the missing or the number of the displaced," he said.

There is suspicion in some quarters that the generals decided to sacrifice thousands of people's lives in the hardest hit areas by not assisting those in most desperate need adequately. Rather than spend the funds (and take soldiers away from other duties) the generals thought it would be cheaper to allow the situation to continue.

This may be why the Junta will not allow aid workers into the hardest hit areas. If so, it may be all the more reason to limit international donations to only the barest minimun rather than assist the continued oppression represented by the military authorities.