Yangon, May 9: The military junta in Myanmar has said that it is not ready to accept foreign aid workers, amid mounting criticism of its response to the devastating cyclone. The Myanmarese foreign ministry said in a statement that it would be happy to accept aid, but insisted it would control the distribution itself.
The statement follows pressure from the United Nations to speed up the issuing of visas to foreign relief experts. The BBC quoted the World Food Programme's Paul Risley as saying that the delays were "unprecedented in modern humanitarian relief efforts". Dozens of aid experts are reported to be waiting for visas in neighbouring Thailand - but the Burmese embassy there has closed for a public holiday and will not reopen until next Tuesday.
This delay seems inexplicable even as several countries have come forward willingly with aid packages.
Britain, Japan and the United Nations have pledged to give 10 million dollars each, while the United States and France have come forward with a package of three million dollars each. Australia has pledged 2.8 million dollars.
The UN claims that up to 1.5 million people may have been affected by Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the Irrawaddy Delta region on Saturday.
Burmese state media say 22,980 people were killed, but there are fears the figure could rise to 100,000.
Hundreds of thousands of people have no food, water or shelter. International aid agencies on the ground say they have reached only 10 percent of those that need help.
Human rights groups have urged the generals to postpone a referendum on their much-criticised constitution, due to take place on Saturday.
Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was due to fly to Burma on Sunday to urge its leaders to allow foreign aid workers in.
A relief flight from Qatar, which had an aid team and a media crew on board, has been turned back.
Reports suggest that the troops have begun to distribute significantly more aid, experts agree that the military regime lacks the resources to co-ordinate an effective relief effort.
Burmese TV reported that four flights carrying supplies from the UN's World Food Programme arrived in Rangoon on Thursday, as did an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) flight.
Reports on Thursday had suggested the US had been granted permission to fly in supplies using military planes - but officials later said no agreement had been reached.