Myanmar's military rulers have approved visas for dozens of international relief workers and were allowing more foreigners into areas devastated by a cyclone that left millions in need of aid, the United Nations said Thursday.
It was an apparent sign that the isolationist regime planned to keep its promise to allow in humanitarian workers from all countries and give them access to the Irrawaddy delta, which took the brunt of the cyclone that landed May 2.
The last 45 pending visas were granted to U.N. staffers, while Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and the U.N. Children's Fund have sent more than 14 workers in recent days into the delta region, a U.N. statement said.
Japan, which has so far donated $13 million in aid, sent a 23-member medical team to the country Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo.
"I went to some areas where no international relief personnel had been to, and the priorities for these people are food and shelter. We're going to be working very hard to deliver these items to them," Tony Banbury, regional head of the U.N. World Food Program, told AP Television News Thursday.
The storm left an estimated 2.4 million people in desperate need of food, shelter and medical care, according to the U.N. Myanmar's government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left 56,000 missing.
Myanmar's leaders are leery of foreign aid workers and international agencies, worrying they could weaken the junta's grip on power. The generals also don't want their people to see aid coming directly from countries like the U.S. that the junta has long treated as a hostile power.
They only allowed foreign aid workers in after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe last weekend.
But state-run media took a swipe at the foreign aid on Thursday, saying that people in the delta could survive on "fresh vegetables that grow wild in the fields and on protein-rich fish from the rivers" if they could not get "bars of chocolate donated by the international community."
Commentary in the Myanma Ahlin newspaper said that while the country welcomed international aid, "Myanmar people are self-reliant and can stand on their own without foreign assistance."
While not naming the agency, the article slammed a monetary institution, saying its refusal to extend loans or financial aid to cyclone victims was "an act of inhumanity."
While garnering some praise for opening up to the international aid community, global powers have voiced outrage at a decision by the government to extend the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi just days after donors pledged large sums of money to help the cyclone victims.
Several countries, including the United States, Britain and France, issued biting statements about the regime's order to keep the Nobel peace laureate under house arrest for a sixth year.
"This measure testifies to the junta's absence of will to cooperate with the international community," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.
He called on Myanmar's government to "free without delay" Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and opposition members being held. Suu Kyi has been held for more than 12 of the past 18 years, becoming a symbol of the junta's intolerance of dissent.
Many nations critical of Myanmar's abuses had put politics aside to help survivors of Cyclone Nargis. Representatives from 50 nations pledged up to $150 million Sunday, while remaining quiet about Suu Kyi's plight.
The regime considers its biggest threat to be Suu Kyi, daughter of the country's martyred independence leader, Gen. Aung San. She was awarded her Nobel prize in 1991 for her nonviolent attempts at promoting democracy and is widely popular.
Under Myanmar law, people deemed security threats can be detained for a maximum of five years without trial. The regime has not officially announced its decision to extend Suu Kyi's detention or explain why it is violating its own law. An official confirmed the extension, but insisted on not being quoted by name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.