Bur­ma Still Nix­es U.S. Mil­i­tary Help; Chi­na Accepts Aid, Admi­ral Says

By Ger­ry J. Gilmore
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

WASHINGTON, May 28, 2008 — The Burmese gov­ern­ment has yet to grant per­mis­sion for U.S. mil­i­tary ves­sels to offload human­i­tar­i­an sup­plies for its cyclone-strick­en cit­i­zens, while the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has wel­comed U.S. mil­i­tary-pro­vid­ed aid for its earth­quake-strick­en peo­ple, a senior U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer said here today.

Cyclone Nar­gis hit Bur­ma on May 3, caus­ing near­ly 80,000 deaths and dis­plac­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands. The Unit­ed Nations has esti­mat­ed that up to 2.5 mil­lion Burmese are in dire need of assis­tance, accord­ing to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thai­land.

Burma’s rul­ing mil­i­tary com­mit­tee, called a jun­ta, has stead­fast­ly refused to allow U.S. Navy ships to deliv­er tons of need­ed human­i­tar­i­an sup­plies to Burmese ports or allow U.S. heli­copters to fly in aid to dev­as­tat­ed regions, Navy Adm. Tim­o­thy J. Keat­ing, com­man­der of U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand, told reporters at a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence.

On May 12, the Burmese gov­ern­ment began allow­ing U.S. mil­i­tary car­go air­craft to fly in human­i­tar­i­an aid from Thai­land to the Burmese air­port in Ran­goon. Since then, U.S. planes laden with food, water, blan­kets, mos­qui­to net­ting and plas­tic sheet­ing have aver­aged about five flights into Ran­goon each day, Keat­ing not­ed. In this way, he said, about 1.4 mil­lion pounds of relief sup­plies have been deliv­ered to Bur­ma to date.

Cur­rent U.S. mil­i­tary flights to Ran­goon are car­ry­ing goods pro­vid­ed by var­i­ous non­govern­men­tal aid orga­ni­za­tions, Keat­ing said, such as the Unit­ed Nations, the World Food Pro­gram and oth­er agen­cies.

“It doesn’t mat­ter to us whose stuff it is we are mov­ing,” Keat­ing empha­sized, not­ing the goal is to pro­vide human­i­tar­i­an aid to Burmese cyclone vic­tims.

Upon reach­ing Ran­goon, Keat­ing explained, the U.S. mil­i­tary-trans­port­ed relief goods are sub­se­quent­ly being dis­trib­uted to the Burmese pop­u­la­tion by non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and the Burmese gov­ern­ment.

Marine Lt. Gen. John F. Good­man, com­man­der of U.S. Marine forces in the Pacif­ic region, remains in Thai­land in charge of Task Force Oper­a­tion Car­ing Response for Bur­ma, Keat­ing said.

Keat­ing recalled his May 12 flight to Ran­goon from Thai­land aboard a U.S. Air Force C-130 trans­port plane, accom­pa­nied by U.S. State Depart­ment offi­cials.

“I reas­sured the Burmese del­e­ga­tion of a cou­ple of points,” Keat­ing recalled. “One, we were ready to pro­vide relief assis­tance imme­di­ate­ly. Two, we were capa­ble of mov­ing 250,000 pounds or so a day of relief mate­r­i­al into Bur­ma.”

Keat­ing also informed Burmese offi­cials that U.S. mil­i­tary heli­copters could move human­i­tar­i­an sup­plies inland from Ran­goon to hard-hit places like the Irrawad­dy delta region.

“We would come in and be entire­ly self-suf­fi­cient,” Keat­ing said he told Burmese offi­cials. The U.S. troops, the admi­ral added, would also depart Bur­ma “every evening” if its gov­ern­ment desired that.

Burmese offi­cials were invit­ed to ride aboard the U.S. heli­copters as they deliv­ered aid, Keat­ing recalled. The Burmese offi­cials also were urged to vis­it the U.S. flotil­la that’s laden with sup­plies and waits off the Burmese coast.

The Burmese offi­cials in Ran­goon respond­ed that they couldn’t grant the nec­es­sary per­mis­sion and the ques­tion would have to be tak­en up with high­er author­i­ties, Keat­ing recalled.

“We went to great lengths to try to assure them and reas­sure them that we had no mil­i­tary inten­tions” in Bur­ma, Keat­ing said. “We want­ed to pro­vide relief, and we were capa­ble of doing that already.”

Mean­while, the USS Essex, USS Harpers Fer­ry, USS Mustin and USS Juneau still remain in the Bay of Ben­gal, about 50 nau­ti­cal miles off Burma’s coast, await­ing per­mis­sion from the Burmese gov­ern­ment to deliv­er human­i­tar­i­an sup­plies.

The U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers in the naval flotil­la “bad­ly, des­per­ate­ly want to help” the Burmese peo­ple, Keat­ing empha­sized. But the U.S. Navy ships, he pre­dict­ed, would not be post­ed off Bur­ma indef­i­nite­ly.

In con­trast to the Burmese gov­ern­ment, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has read­i­ly accept­ed U.S. mil­i­tary-pro­vid­ed human­i­tar­i­an aid for earth­quake vic­tims, Keat­ing point­ed out.

The People’s Repub­lic of China’s Sichuan province was hit by a mag­ni­tude 7.9 earth­quake on May 12 that’s esti­mat­ed to have killed more than 30,000 peo­ple.

Last week­end, the U.S. mil­i­tary dis­patched two C-17 car­go jets to Chi­na laden with tens of thou­sands of pounds of relief sup­plies includ­ing gen­er­a­tors, food, tents, water, and water-purifi­ca­tion equip­ment pro­vid­ed by the Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency.

Around that time, Keat­ing recalled receiv­ing per­mis­sion to use the U.S.-China mil­i­tary hot line to talk with a senior Chi­nese air force gen­er­al. The Chi­nese gen­er­al, he said, was aware of the arrival of the U.S.-provided aid.

Two more U.S. mil­i­tary air­planes recent­ly arrived in Chi­na, Keat­ing not­ed, one car­ry­ing mem­bers of a Los Ange­les Fire Depart­ment urban res­cue team and the oth­er deliv­er­ing tents.

“Prin­ci­pal­ly, there are mil­lions of folks who are with­out shel­ter, and so one of the things that the Chi­nese tell us they need is tents,” Keat­ing explained.

The People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na for­ward­ed more than $5 mil­lion in aid to the Unit­ed States for Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na relief in Sep­tem­ber 2005.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)