Thursday, May 22, 2008

Canadian cargo plane to deliver helicopters to Myanmar

ROME — Canada will lend its biggest military aircraft, the C-17 cargo lifter, to the World Food Program to deliver WFP helicopters to Myanmar, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier announced last night.

Mr. Bernier offered the plane after Myanmar said it will let the WFP bring 10 helicopters into the country to deliver emergency supplies to stranded cyclone victims. "Canada is there to help the people of Burma and we have a C-17 available," he said after a meeting in Rome with Franco Frattini, his Italian counterpart.

The plane will make at least one long-range flight to take two WFP helicopters from Ukraine to either Myanmar (formerly called Burma) or Thailand. "I hope the plane will be allowed to go into Burma, but it may land in Bangkok instead," Mr. Bernier said. "We'll do this flight as quickly as possible."
He had no other details about the mission. The arrangement was made earlier in the day, when Mr. Bernier met WFP executive director Josette Sheeran. The WFP, which is based in Rome, is the United Nations' food relief agency. Mr. Bernier asked what assistance was required and Ms. Sheeran said the agency needed cargo planes more than money to buy food. The helicopters don't have the range or the speed to get to Myanmar quickly.

Canada has four C-17s, known as Globemasters, with cavernous interiors. They can carry a payload of 77,500 kilograms and can fly 4,400 kilometres without refuelling.

Ottawa has donated $2-million to the relief effort, which has been stalled by the military government's reluctance to allow relief flights and convoys into Myanmar. While it has welcomed the WFP helicopters, it is not allowing U.S. naval ships to deliver aid.

The May 3 cyclone has left 78,000 Myanmarese dead and another 56,000 missing, according to the latest estimates. As many as 2½ million more are said to be vulnerable to disease and famine.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon heads to Myanmar today to try to persuade the ruling generals to allow more foreign assistance into the country.

He urged the junta yesterday to focus on saving lives, not on politics, after it said it would not allow delivery of aid from U.S. naval vessels waiting offshore.

Myanmar's top generals have always viewed relations with the world through a dark, political prism.

The isolationist regime is deeply suspicious of outsiders. And the junta is antagonistic toward the United Nations over its lead role in international pressures to restore democracy, seeing the world body as a stooge of the United States and other Western nations.

Mr. Ban hopes to put those suspicions on the shelf for now, arguing that he is not coming to attack the military regime, but only to address overwhelming humanitarian needs.

"We have a functioning relief program in place. But so far we have been able to reach only about 25 per cent of the people in need," Mr. Ban said. European Union legislators said yesterday the world should force aid on the military government.

"The Burmese authorities are responsible for a crime against humanity," Polish EU lawmaker Urszula Gacek said.

With reports from AP and Reuters

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