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U.N. Secretary-General To Send Aid Chief To Myanmar

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that he plans to send the world body's aid chief, John Holmes to cyclone ravaged Myanmar to urge its military rulers to facilitate disaster relief efforts by opening up the country to foreign aid.

"I am considering sending Under-Secretary-General of Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-OCHA John Holmes, with the World Food Program airplane, with humanitarian assistance in the coming days," Ban said.

The U.N. Chief made the remarks to the gathered media following a meeting with major donors and the Association of South East Asian Nations-Asean at the U.N. Headquarters in New York in an effort to get aid into Myanmar more effectively.

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

Holmes said that although more than 100 international U.N. aid workers were now in Myanmar, they were not being allowed beyond Rangoon.

Meanwhile, in an apparent concession, Myanmar authorities have invited in 160 aid workers from neighboring Bangladesh, China, India and Thailand. But it is not clear whether they will be permitted to enter the worst affected regions and in any case they are a fraction of the number needed.

The United Nations has sharply increased its estimate of those severely affected by Cyclone Nargis 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.

In Washington, Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said his organization was trying to build a "coalition of mercy" to help fellow member Myanmar. "We are trying to work around a very, very stiff resistance mentality and mindset that have been there for a long, long time," Pitsuwan told a forum.

Fears of a fresh storm eased on Wednesday as forecasters said a tropical depression off Myanmar'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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