Malaysian Buddhist chief urges Myanmar for foreign aid

AFP, May 10 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- The leader of Malaysia's Buddhists on Friday urged Myanmar to allow foreign aid workers to enter the reclusive nation after a cyclone left tens of thousands dead and more than a million homeless.

Tropical cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar over the weekend, leaving at least 63,000 dead or missing, although aid workers and embassy officials say the death toll could top 100,000.

But the mainly Buddhist country's reclusive military rulers have said they were not ready to allow in foreign relief workers.

“We are really appealing to the Myanmar government to let foreign aid workers to help them because it has nothing to do with politics,” Buddhist high priest of Malaysia reverend K Sri Dhammaratana told AFP.

“This is purely on humanitarian grounds and it is an urgent need. The longer they wait and stall, things are going to get worse and unmanageable,” he said.

Dhammaratana's plea comes amid international pressure to allow experts into the isolated nation where cyclone survivors are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the spread of disease and starvation.

Myanmar's junta has said the country needed outside aid but would deliver it itself.

“Without thinking about politics, the junta should allow whoever who comes to offer help to support the victims,” Dhammaratana said, after launching a fund raising drive for cyclone victims.

“We may face restraints in getting assistance across the borders but this will not hamper our efforts to jointly channel our donations to Myanmar,” he added.