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Myanmar Military Accused of Stealing And Diverting International Aid

Wednesday, several relief organizations said that International aid coming into Myanmar for the victims of Cyclone Nargis was being stolen, diverted or warehoused by the army.

Local government officials have been accused of selling aid and bribing residents for making profit, according to local sources. Officers of the local township are allegedly refusing families their quota of cooking oil and rice and instead diverting it to the black market.

The directors of the organizations, however, were not willing to be quoted for fear of invoking the military junta's anger and further jeopardizing their relief operations. Marcel Wagner, country director of the Adventist Development and relief Agency, confirmed that aid was being misused or diverted by the army. The military has barred any credentialed diplomat or aid worker from accompanying the aid. There were rumors that high-energy biscuits were replaced with inferior ones.

The World Health Organization-WHO, however, said that their medical supplies were neither diverted nor replaced with substandard items.

More aid is regularly arriving at Yangon, but international rescue teams and disaster-relief experts are being kept away from the country. A small French team has arrived in the country, but it was not clear whether they had received official permission. About 160 relief workers are expected from neighboring countries, including China, India, Bangladesh, and Thailand.

The United Nations has sharply increased its estimate of those severely affected by Burma's cyclone to 2.5m people up from the 1.5m previously thought to be in need, following the storm 12 days ago.

According to the latest Burmese official figures, the death toll stood at almost 38,500 with 27,838 more missing but the Red Cross warned as many as 128,000 could be dead.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened talks with donors and the Association of South-East Asian Nations in New York on Wednesday following pressure from Britain to call an emergency summit.

Ban said he "regretted" the U.N. had spent more time arranging rather than delivering help, amid claims of roadblocks being put by the junta. "Even though the Myanmar government has shown some sense of flexibility, at this time it's far, far too short," he said.

Fears of a fresh storm eased on Wednesday as forecasters said a tropical depression off Burma's coast had weakened and was unlikely to brew into a cyclone. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii downgraded the cyclone risk to "poor".

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